During 2016 I have been privileged to deliver dozens of soft skills workshops to hundreds of employees, both in the UK and overseas. And when you spend so much time with people, you learn a thing or two about what frustrates employees but also what it takes to significantly improve their performance.

Now, you might think the reasons why staff members are lagging in performance are the usual culprits such as managers, pay, or workload. And yet, every time I went “off script” and put listening deeply to my course participants before getting through the curriculum, I discovered the hidden reasons why people feel so stuck in life. And when one feels like that, is it any wonder it will also impact their performance at work?

First I want to share with you why I’m using the word “woowoo.” Dangerous thing to do with a corporate reader audience, no? Not if I share with you the commercial value of this word in terms of producing the difference between a disengaged and engaged employee.

In course feedback questionnaires participants would often report that they had learned new vocational skills, for sure, but what they really took away from our training time together was the “woowoo stuff.” Whenever I felt the opportunity presented itself to go off-script for a moment – to put the lacking holistic foundations down on which training should be built – I would say to participants, “OK, this might be a bit woowoo but…”

And time and again those were the lightbulb moments when the transformational magic happened: From identifying and releasing their (real) fears, to shifting old limiting beliefs, and restoring healthy self-respect through some simple yet powerful exercises.

Woowoo was my way of creating a safe space for delegates to grow holistically, expanding their self-awareness and emotional intelligence. And before long, those woowoo moments would become the favourite parts of the training, for once you’re on the holistic highway you discover what it takes to self-motivate and show up with a results-driven mindset – at home and at the office.

So what -exactly- are employees struggling with and how -exactly- does holistic awareness help improve engagement? Why do the internal shifts in self-awareness generate more external results like customer service, sales, and productivity? Senior leaders who have observed positive changes in results ask me this question often, and here’s what I believe:

There are 3 surprising reasons why performance is affected in the workplace and how a little woowoo support can change that.

  1. Employees can’t express themselves because they don’t know themselves (Basically you have strangers in your office.)

To use a bold analogy: If you want to speak in your native language it helps to know which country you’re from. And yet many people can’t speak their “language” because they are not clear on their identity origins such as mindset, behaviour, emotions, values, or purpose. The change happens on the holistic highway when course delegates greatly increase their self-awareness which inspires authentic self-expression. And when you work with colleagues who are being authentic when they express themselves, you will accelerate collaboration and drive efficiency through clarity of communication. Moreover, in a highly digitalised world filled with impersonal customer experiences, authenticity can restore customer trust and loyalty in your company. Customers are gasping for an authentic, empathetic connection and employees who are genuinely comfortable within themselves will be able to deliver on that expectation.

2. Employees are deflated because they can’t define their overall life purpose

Too much time is spent worrying excessively about what our actual role in life might be. Imagine, every day millions of employees do the work they know they aren’t meant to do. That’s a huge motivational issue with a negative impact on all aspects of your business. Mediocre engagement produces mediocre results. But the problem is that people don’t know what they are meant to be doing. And that’s where the woowoo comes in.

One of the most liberating messages employees take from our off-script moments is when they learn that there isn’t “one thing” they should be doing with their life. That’s big news to many people. The suffocating, self-imposed pressure soon releases its tight grip when I share my believes around finding our life purpose; our “role.”

A more empowering approach is to focus -and then leverage- the skills that would make one a suitable candidate for that role. I will use another analogy to explain. It may seem that the life purpose of a painter is to be a painter, right? But what if the road to becoming a painter is hard or, worse, invisible? The most productive course of action in that case is to focus on what being a painter is all about. What are the qualities and energies involved? What’s so appealing about the role? Perhaps our life purpose is not to become a painter but to express our creativity, for example. And creativity can be expressed in more than one way.

Pavarotti would still have been hugely valuable to the world of music even if he wasn’t a tenor. He could have shared his passion for music in many different ways. Did you know that actress Dame Judi Dench was originally studying to become a set designer? However, she chose to express her creative talent in a very different way but to great critical acclaim.

This shift in perception can really lift the weight on one’s shoulders and encourages employees to calibrate their interests, talents, and values with their careers in new and exciting ways. And when you’re excited about what you do the results will soon show.

Tom was a customer service advisor in his late thirties who didn’t enjoy his job and often failed to hit targets. His real passion was teaching but he was unclear why and hadn’t given much thought to the career options available to him. Also, was teaching what he’s meant to be doing in life? Tom wasn’t sure. When he discovered why he really wanted to become a learning and development professional – because he enjoyed making complex topics easy for people to understand and apply – he achieved a major instant win by channeling that key ability into his conversations with customers, helping and reassuring them with clear and logical instructions instead of his usual uninspired delivery. The results for the business? Satisfied customers, improved quality scores, and more sales. The results for Tom? Renewed appreciation for his role, leveraging his unique gift daily, and a step closer to a future role in L&D.

3. Employees don’t know how to feel valuable

This is not about complementary fruit baskets, appreciation cakes or sales incentives. I love seeing how companies are committed to recognising efforts which makes employees feel valued. But there’s an important difference between feeling valued and feeling valuable. And that’s another pivotal realisation on the holistic highway.

I sometimes ask course participants to write down 3 things they really like about themselves. You would be surprised how many people find that rather difficult. Immediately it is clear that people undervalue themselves. They may come up with obvious qualities like “I’m a good parent” or “I’m a good cook,” but when I challenge them to add another 5 strengths to their lists, they are stuck.

This is where woowoo nudges people to zoom out a little. When I point out, for example, the positive impact they have on other people without realising, another major shift in self-awareness occurs.

All of us can have a positive impact on those around us, and if we are open to that beautiful truth, we will benefit in significant ways: a) we could do it more purposefully to leverage the impact and b) it enhances self-esteem in an organic way. Your smile could be a light in the life of a co-worker who’s suffering in silence. A small thing to you, but a positive impact on them. Now that you know that, smile more often and enjoy the feeling of making a difference.

When employees are encouraged to look at the totality of their positive actions -no matter how small- their list of strengths soon grows which boosts self-worth in an authentic way. And showing people how to restore self-worth is paramount in a world where social media, among other sources of pressure, can easily make us feel inferior. And of course this positive change in self-appreciation will have a positive effect in the workplace, for it matters that employees know they matter.

In summary:

  • Authentic self-expression generates real engagement
  • Work / Life calibration opens new doors
  • We impact in more ways than we realise

All of this significantly optimises the quality of employee engagement and productivity.