Creating momentum should be an active part of every leader's agenda. Leaders are the pacesetters of organisations, who are tasked with helping employees to reach deep within in order to achieve great results.
The top athletes have the ability to reach into the anaerobic system where the spare fuel is stored in the muscles for an extra boost. While in normal settings the brain appears to conserve the body's limited energy, in fierce competition it allows athletes to tap more deeply into energy storage as momentum increases.
In the business world, we need to tap into this "extra fuel" tank to release discretionary effort. Most employees settle into a particular pattern of work and operate in a certain range of efficiency. Then when called upon, they dip into the discretionary effort and outperform their normal efficiency pattern.
So the question for leaders is, how do you get your employees to reach into their discretionary effort and improve their productivity? While there are many factors that contribute, the one that stands out is creating momentum.
In physics, momentum is the quantity of motion of a moving body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity. In organisational life, momentum is the power residing in movement.
A good indicator of what you will do in the near future is what you did in the recent past. So if performance levels are high, it's likely they will stay that way. This is because momentum is an incredibly reliable short-term predictor. The most reliable predictor of what you will be doing in five minutes is what you are doing now.
The same holds true if performance levels are low, momentum (or the lack of it) says they will stay low. Momentum affects the things that really matter, such as the level of performance and behaviour in work.
In reality momentum requires serious effort to get something moving but once it is moving it is harder to get it to stop then to keep it moving. Creating momentum requires inertia. The bigger the organisation, the more inertia you will need. To get the inertia to create momentum, you need to do something new or improved as this is the path to sustained momentum.
Anything new, whether negative or positive, triggers some kind of momentum. But the question is in which direction as the momentum can be positive or negative. Organisational momentum is often triggered by one of these three things: new leadership; new direction; or a new product, service or offering. New doesn't guarantee sustained momentum, but new does create inertia, an essential trigger for momentum.
An improvement must be noticeable progress over the old because momentum is never triggered by tweaking something old. It is ignited by introducing a visibly new improvement. Ask, "is this a significant improvement over what we had before"? If you are in a situation where there is not enough money to do something new and improved, you may be doing too many things.
Momentum in an organisation is best reflected in the mentality of "thank goodness it is Sunday", implying employees are fired up to come to work because your organisation has momentum.
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center