Every change an organization implements is fueled by human energy. The impact of a change on an individual is determined by the amount of energy he or she must spend to fulfill the requirements of the change plus the amount of energy spent to regain a sense of control and emotional well-being.

Four kinds of energy are used to deal with the challenges of change:
  •  Physical: Using the body to get things done. This includes lifting heavy things, moving objects, staying awake for long periods of time, enduring physical discomfort, and other forms of physical exertion.
  •  Mental: Thinking clearly and quickly. This includes concentrating attention on something, learning a new way of doing things, figuring out how to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle, perform analyses or calculations, and other forms of mental exertion.
  • Emotional: Working with difficult feelings. This includes maintaining or regaining motivation while overcoming negative thoughts and emotions (worry, anger, sadness, fear, loneliness, etc.), absorbing emotional blows, dealing with tough interpersonal situations, and other forms of emotional exertion.
  •  Spiritual: Connecting with a sense of meaning and purpose. This includes dealing with challenges to integrity, doing the right thing in the face of obstacles, facing threats to personally meaningful aspects of one’s work, and other forms of spiritual exertion.
These forms of energy are interconnected–depletion of one can lead to deficits in other areas. For example, physical exhaustion can lead to increased errors or emotional outbursts.
Each change uses some combination of these energies. For example, the implementation of new technology may involve long hours (physical), learning new tools and procedures (mental), feeling frustrated or fearful when encountering problems (emotional), and losing one’s status as an expert resource on the old system (spiritual).
When people face large changes, or multiple overlapping initiatives, they may not have enough energy to meet all the demands. In a separate series I’ve talked about the causes, effects, and solutions for change overload. Here I would like to focus on the organization’s role in helping individuals do three things:
  • Plug energy leaks
  • Replenish energy as needed
  • Build energy capacity.
These things enable organizations to build human energy sustainability, which is a benefit not only to the individuals in the organization–who can achieve better results without long-term depletion–but also to the organization itself, which is then able to implement more significant changes because its human resources have the energy required to complete them successfully.
In the following posts, I will focus on each form of energy, and describe activities, practices, and cultural norms organizations can put in place to maintain high levels of human well-being. Click here for Part 2 in this series.