We’ve all at some point experienced being “in the zone” – it’s that time when you are completely focused on whatever it is you’re doing and nothing else seems to matter. Personally, I get this when I’m working on an exciting new project or when I’m playing chess or racquetball. This concept of flow was actually created by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975 as he began studying artists who would say that they are getting “lost in their work.”
When it comes to being in a flow state at work, Csíkszentmihályi identifies three things that must exist:
- Clear goals
- Immediate feedback
- A balance between opportunity and capacity
These three criteria are also among some of the biggest challenges that organisations around the world are faced with. This is why only 13% of employees around the world are engaged in their jobs, and why out of the 252 companies I studied, only 6% of them do an amazing job at creating employee experiences.
In most organisations, employees have no idea how their individual work is contributing to the broader goal of the project, the team, or the organisation. When I used to work at a movie theatre many years ago, they use to run regular contests around who could upsell the most customers to purchase a larger drink and popcorn bucket (because we all need more soda and popcorn). The winner at the end of each week would get a $25 gift card. None of the employees who participated knew why they were doing it or how it helped the theatre. Where was all the money going that we helped generate?
Contrast this to the San Diego Zoo, which has a similar concept in place. They too have people who work behind the concession stand who sell merchandise and try to upsell customers. Except in this case, the employees see a clear connection between the extra money they generate and how it goes towards the mission of the company, which is to help end extinction. Both companies have the same approach, but the Zoo makes the goals clear and helps employees connect to those goals.
If you’re lucky, you work at a company that does an annual engagement or performance review and maybe you get some one-on-one time with a manager every few months. But in many companies, you might get an engagement survey every two years, a performance review every year, and maybe a quarterly chat with a manager – ridiculous.
Imagine this same scenario being applied to any other aspect of life such as a relationship or a competitive sports team. Would your relationship work if you provided feedback in an annual survey? How well do you think your team would do if you reviewed your performance once a year? For some reason we provide and receive immediate feedback in every aspect of our lives except at work. In order to help employee achieve a state of flow, you need to make sure that a feedback mechanism is in place. This means not only having technology that allows for real-time feedback, but also encouraging real-time in-person feedback and dialogue as well.
A balance between opportunity and capacity
Oftentimes employees may feel like they have plateaued and there is nowhere else for them to go and nothing else for them to learn. In these types of situations it’s almost impossible to get into a state of flow. This is why some organisations like Linkedin always encourage their employees to be in several different “states” at once, which are:
- Eager beaver – excited and ready to take on the world
- Oh sh*t – the job is bigger and perhaps harder than you realised
- OK, I’m starting to get it – you find your voice and your way
- Master – you know everything but feel a bit bored and uninspired
LinkedIn wants employees to always be in all four boxes, challenging themselves and working on new projects so that they never feel stuck. Other organisations like Cisco have created their own internal freelance marketplaces where employees can essentially bid on internal projects that best utilise their skills and strengths. The last piece of this that is crucial is perpetual learning. This means that individuals need to be more accountable for teaching themselves the skills they need to succeed and grow, but it also means that organisations need to help provide the resources and tools to do so.
Being in a state of flow is something that we have all experienced, and when we are in that state we are absolutely able to crush whatever it is we’re working on. If your organisation can focus on the things discussed above, it will help employees get into that state – and then everyone will benefit.
Jacob Morgan is a three time best-selling author, keynote speaker and futurist who explores the future of work and employee experience. Jacob is also the creator of The Future of Work University and "The Future If" Community. You can learn more about Jacob and get access to his blog, podcast, video series and research by visiting www.thefutureorganization.com.