A flywheel transforms energy inputs into a constant output of productive power.

Jim Collins, in his seminal book “Good to Great,” coined the term “the flywheel effect” to describe the momentum that occurs when small wins accumulate over time, creating continued growth and improvement. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, generating power and momentum.the flywheel model

The flywheel analogy also appears in a paper from PwC titled, “The Flywheel Philosophy” in which the authors posit that companies harness the potential power of stakeholder partnerships to create a significant source of energy within the organisation – noting that employees form a core stakeholder group.

“Building a stakeholder flywheel requires aligning a firm’s purpose, strategy, culture, and executional capacities so that stakeholders are willing and able to contribute their time, energy, and passion to the enterprise.” The Flywheel Philosophy, PwC.

Creating a flywheel with your employee engagement strategy

Employee engagement programmes can generate energy and momentum within a business. Here’s how to do it.

Engaging employees begins with finding out what they’re thinking and feeling and is usually done via an employee engagement survey. However, that’s just the beginning. Success depends upon what leaders do with the employee feedback and insights the survey provides. Our simple “Rule of 3” framework makes it simple and impactful.

Respond to employee survey results within 3 weeks: Respond to the survey while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. If more than a month goes by, the effect diminishes. Thank your team for their participation in the survey, share some high-level results and pick 3 areas of focus.

Pick 3 areas of improvement to focus on: The feedback from your employees will shine a light on opportunities to improve the employee experience for your team. Play a game you can win by selecting 3 areas where you will be able to show measurable improvement (for most people) over the next 90 – 120 days.

Why just three? It’s simple. People can more easily digest information presented in groups of 3, enabling you to communicate with maximum impact.

Communicate your action plan 3 ways: 

The greatest value and impact happen when the messages are communicated in 3 ways. We recommend:

  1. Sharing the action plan via the employee engagement platform,
  2. Presenting the plan in in-person meetings – a town hall is ideal,
  3. Following up in writing, such as via email, posting the plan in shared spaces, or pinning it to the top of a team channel in Slack, Skype, or Teams.

Communicate your action plan 3 times: Any professional communicator will tell you that repetition is necessary for message retention. Our advice: communicate the action plan to employees three times:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to do, and when,
  2. Tell them how the plan is progressing mid-way through,
  3. Tell them when the work was done, and share the outcomes.

The window of opportunity for engaging employees

The first employee engagement survey and its resulting actions start the flywheel turning. Repeating the process at regular intervals is how you build momentum.

We’ve found that a window of opportunity exists between surveys, and that window is between 90-120 days. This interval provides enough time for leadership to assess and act upon the engagement survey feedback, and communicate progress and results to employees while the survey is still top of mind. When that process is repeated three or four times annually, momentum will build in the business.

However, if more time elapses, the window of opportunity will close. The interest in the survey will wane, and the skeptics will be able to say “See, I told you nothing would come out of that survey.”

The flywheel will spin to a halt, and when that happens, it takes a lot more effort to get it moving again.

How momentum builds in the workplace

When your employees see that their feedback is being acted upon and that their opinions matter, they will feel valued and trust in leadership will rise. As a result, employee engagement measurably grows, as does survey participation: when people see that the survey gets results, they will want to be involved.

If you stick to the Golden Window and survey the team every 90-120 days – communicating your 3 areas of focus each time and then following through – you will find that the incremental improvements made as a result of the feedback accumulate quickly. This drives continued increases in engagement levels, along with improved morale, performance, and retention. Your flywheel will be spinning, creating power, and continuing to increase momentum.

Consistency builds momentum in the workplace 

The magical thing about a flywheel, whether we’re talking about the real thing or the flywheel effect in a workplace, is its ability to turn inputs into a consistent output of energy, even though the inputs may be variable in timing and power. A physical flywheel – which is at its most basic is a heavy wheel that once moving is easier to keep moving than to stop and re-start – stores energy. Keeping it moving or accelerating its speed is nowhere near as taxing as getting the flywheel started from a dead stop.

Jim Collins, the previously mentioned author of Good to Great, noted that in his research for the book, the leaders of the companies that had made the leap from good to great “could not pinpoint a single key event or moment in time that exemplified the transition.” The same could not be said for the “comparison” companies – those that had not achieved the leap to greatness.

“We found a very different pattern at the comparison companies. Instead of a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done and then simply doing it, the comparison companies frequently launched new programs—often with great fanfare and hoopla aimed at “motivating the troops”—only to see the programs fail to produce sustained results. They sought the single defining action, the grand program, the one killer innovation, the miracle moment that would allow them to skip the arduous buildup stage and jump right to breakthrough. They would push the flywheel in one direction, then stop, change course, and throw it in a new direction—and then they would stop, change course, and throw it into yet another direction. After years of lurching back and forth, the comparison companies failed to build sustained momentum and fell instead into what we came to call the doom loop.”— excerpt from Jim Collins’ website about the flywheel effect.

At its core, figuring out what needs to be done and then simply doing it is how you engage your team and improve your business. It isn’t complicated, or at least, it doesn’t have to be. The approach we advocate – consistently gathering employee feedback, taking action on key items, and communicating clearly with your team – pays immediate dividends for both employees and the business – and it’s how you create sustainable momentum and energy in the workplace.

engagement energy toolkit

Engagement Energy Toolkit

Engaging your employees and creating a new source of power for your workplace can be as easy as ABC: building alignment, belonging, and clarity.

We’ve assembled a toolkit providing the tactics and tools for building alignment, belonging, and clarity for your workforce. Download your free toolkit here.