04/14/2015 09:54 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2015

How to Build a Human-Centric Business Ecosystem (Part 3) 'The Amount of Stress of the Organization'

In the first and second article I focused on the comprehension of the culture and the level of cooperation of an organization, as two critical components in the understanding of the level of healthiness and sustainability of a business environment. To complete the analysis, there is a third very important aspect to be taken into account that is the amount of stress of the organization.

In this article, I'm concentrating my efforts on explaining the role of stress within an organization, and how as leaders and managers, we can channel what is often given a negative connotation, into a positive and dynamic energy.

When we research the definition of stress, it is interesting to note that the word has long been use in physics. Specifically it refers "to the internal distribution of a force exerted on a material body, resulting in strain. " An important contributor to the understanding of psychological stress was the noted American physician George Beard (1839-1883), a specialist in diseases of the nervous system. This condition, characterized by Beard, is very much equivalent to our modern understanding of chronic stress. It exhibits symptoms of severe anxiety, unexplained fatigue, and irrational fears--a state of affairs that caused an inability of the individual's nervous system to meet the demands of daily life.

In the 19th century literature started to talk about psychological stress, as a result "of the newly imposed demands of the Industrial Revolution on 19th century life may cause an overload of the nervous system ".

The term "Stress" though, appeared for the first time in the Index of Psychological Abstracts in 1944. "However this term becomes very popular only in the last few decades, and in industrialized countries, a 'stress epidemic' has been apparently ignited: Today almost everybody seems to be affected by the negative effects of stress. "

In the words of Andrea Becky Hanson, "the particular challenge we have in this era of human evolution is the incredible fast pace and 24/7/365 constancy with which new information and energy become available to us, and the incredible speed it is transmitted and downloaded. In fact, media experts tell us the amount of information available to us in the last three years is more than the information available in the last 6,000 years all together ".

"Moreover, stress has recently been shown to play an important role in the onset of cardiovascular diseases, immunological disorders, and pathophysiological consequences of normal aging ".

The reason why it is important for us, as business managers and leaders, to understand the level of stress in our organization, is that it is a component that impacts the performance of our people. A structure with very high levels of stress can impede the ability of the employees to execute even the simplest things, and therefore make big mistakes that translate into costs. In extreme situations, the result is basically that of a paralyzed ecosystem that drives the economics of the business down.

I define stress as the body and soul energy killer. Energy is what makes us all wake up in the morning with physical and mental strength, leave home and get to work motivated and focused on the things that positively impact the business inside (colleagues) and outside (customers).

As in the previous articles, I'm going to use my equestrian experience in dressage , to explain the role that a good energy level plays in training the horse. Imagine the body of the horse as a big source of power that the rider has to manage to be able to get a good to excellent performance.

The quality of the performance is not determined just by the level of energy generated from the impulsion of the hind legs. The rider has to first look for rhythm, relaxation and connection. Without relaxation in fact, there is no possibility to achieve any harmony between the horse and the rider. If the horse is stressed because of a particular environment, if experiencing pain, or if the rider is putting pressure with too much use of the whip, the legs, or the sit, there is no possibility to achieve a good performance. The horse will look tense, and the movements mechanical and forced.

The best horse - rider performance is always the result of a balanced and relaxed communication. This is also the foundation upon which to build trust between the two, and the resilience that allows the training and completion even in a noisy and stressful surrounding.

For me this is exactly the same approach and dynamics present in a healthy business environment. The best leaders and managers measure out the amount of pressure they put on their people, they use transparent communication, favor creativity and implement a fair incentive system. Such an organization is acting without fear, and is highly resilient to the stress created by the outside competition. The energy of the people working for the company is positive, and productive.

Federico Foli ©