Energizers vs. Zappers – A Key to High Performance

Psychology Today refers to them as energy vampires or energy suckers. We all likely know one, and have most likely worked with one as well. They are the generally unhappy people with negative attitudes who seem to suck all the positive energy out of every situation.

Energy Zappers, as we’ll call them here, impact our mood and general outlook on the world. They are:

  • Intrusive
  • Overly dramatic
  • Too critical
  • Chronic complainers
  • Argumentative
  • Demanding
  • Blameless

In the Workforce

It’s obvious that an energy zapper can be detrimental to our personal lives; but they can also seriously impact on-the-job performance. They stifle innovation, close communication channels, and shift the team dynamic in a negative direction.

A joint study by professors at the University of Michigan Business School, the University of Virginia and the IBM Institute for Knowledge-based Organizations found that energy within a team can improve performance, motivate others to succeed, encourage innovation, and improve job satisfaction. They also found that those who energize others are high performers. "These energizers served in effect as lightning rods within their organizations, attracting more time and attention from colleagues for their ideas and expertise,” says Bernie DeGroat, University of Michigan.

A Well-Defined Process

For obvious reasons, it’s critical for executives and managers to employ strategies that ensure the highest level of energy and, in turn, performance as possible. This begins with the selection and interview process, looking specifically for key attributes. According to DeGroat, this means identifying candidates with “energizing interactions, including those that present a compelling vision, create opportunities for others to contribute meaningfully or offer hope for the attainment of a worthy objective."

Unfortunately, most people tend to put their best foot forward during the interview process, making it hard to tell whether someone is a zapper. Your strategy needs to include the following two tactics, which will allow you to more reliably identify energizers vs. zappers.

  1. Thoroughly check references. Your process should be designed to elicit information about the candidate's moods and ability to weather turbulent business conditions.

  2. Conduct an in-depth psychological assessment. This requires the use of sophisticated and scientifically valid (validity is the key) business-oriented personality assessment instruments. The assessment then must be interpreted by a person trained in the use of psychological assessments.

Business-oriented personality assessments gauge characteristics linked to executive effectiveness, such as optimism, perseverance, frustration tolerance, and criticism tolerance. It’s hard for people to fake it on these assessments because they are designed to ferret out fakers. I am frequently asked to provide such assessments for both selection and promotional opportunities and can tell you first-hand that these tools are very effective when used in conjunction with a rigorously structured interview and selection process.

Addressing the Imposters

Concerned that you’ve already let a few (or more) energy zappers in your doors? There’s an easy fix. Comprehensive, 360° evaluations that include personality and team / individual interaction assessments can easily be tied to a relative reward system. You must first place a premium on developing energizing behaviors and attitudes, and then tie them to the right rewards. If done correctly, you can, in time, experience improved performance, motivation toward success, innovation, and improved job satisfaction.