The Why of Work

  “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” An abundant organization is a work setting in which individuals coordinate their aspirations and actions to create meaning for themselves, values for stakeholders, and hope for humanity at large.  Proliferating electronics, high mobility, urban sprawl have all been blamed for increased social isolation. Those who spend hours in front of a computer screen spend less time with real people.   In a work setting, countering these trends means building a culture and work setting that unite and unify people. According to a Saratoga Institute study of more than 19,000 U.S. workers in 17 industries, 72 percent of employees who quit leave because they feel they are not being recognized for their contributions or sufficiently respected and coached by their leader. Gallup Management Journal’s semiannual Employee Engagement Index shows that only 29 percent of employees are actively engaged in their jobs, while 54 percent are not engaged and 17 percent are actively disengaged.  The abundance we imagine is not just an abundance of visible assets (money, prestige, security, or position) but an abundance of an intangible sense of purpose, identity, growth, and well-being.  As leaders weave affirming stories, find heroes and causes, embody ethical and trusted values, clarify principles that lend order and rationality to decisions and routines, and make visible the ways employees’ efforts help the company contribute to a greater good, they create organizations that overflow with a sense of meaning and abundance. In the words of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, “You are not merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”  A sense of abundance is fostered by a clear sense of who we are, what we are good at.

Dave Ulrich & Wendy Ulrich, How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations that Win- The Why of Work . The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.

and uplifting cultures. and compensating employees whose personal identity melds with the identity of the organization or its subparts.  As a leader.   The study of talent has evolved from a focus on employee competence (ability to do the work) to employee commitment (willingness to do the work). and demeaning cultures. training. receive fair pay for work done. life becomes more satisfying and meaningful. Researchers in positive psychology have discovered that when we identify and regularly use our signature character strengths. do work that has an impact.   Go to authentichappiness. you meld organization and personal identities by hiring. they can approach the kind of synergy that occurs in the best of human relationships. Commitment or engagement grows when we work in a company with a vision. . Research suggests that high-performing teams come from high-relating people. praising. negative. affirming. not engaging in yelling matches or protracted threats or shaming. When a serious problem must be corrected. not change. The most engaged employees are generally those whose work gives them the opportunity to stretch while doing work they love and solving problems they care about. or they can encourage constructive. all of which build resentment. and enjoy flexibility in the terms and conditions of work. commenting on.   Leaders can tolerate cynical.    Abundance emerges from a clear sense of what we are trying to accomplish and why. it is best to do so with minimal engagement by withholding pay or privileges. work with people we like working with. When leaders help their organization “families” move beyond the superficialities of getting along to struggling through conflict so that they can understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses.org and take the VIA survey of Character Strengths to identify your signature strengths compared to other people. have opportunities to learn and grow. and rewarding constructive work behavior and mostly ignoring annoyances. Leaders do well to follow a similar pattern.

conversation. defensiveness. the mood of the leader impacted not only the moods of the team members but their productivity and cooperation as well. There is an assumption of deficiency and not enough to go around of all the things that matter: resources. not detracting from it. emotional trustworthiness. opportunity. contempt. and work through obstacles without giving up. What’s more. solve problems.”  Are you willing to ask how people would rate you (anonymously) on how consistently and skillfully you demonstrate empathetic listening.   In an experiment with simulated work teams. and connection at work makes it easier to take tough feedback. They see work as adding to their quality of life and personal well-being. take smart risks. observation. “I am putting you on my team because you and I do not think alike. resisting. and encouragement of others and on how consistently and skillfully you avoid criticism. and stonewalling?  A negative work environment comes with cynicism. we go with one voice.  Participative management does not mean that we get our way but that we have been respected and heard. protecting turf. people remember negative interactions with a boss far longer and with more emotions than they remember the positive ones. trust. and gossip. There is a feeling of abundance-enough and to spare of what matters most in our lives: . Employees spend more time backbiting. Research by Gallup Organization reveals that employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be highly engaged at work than those who do not. and assignment. frustration. invigorates. information.  Help employees become more aware of their signature strengths through assessment. and challenges. so it takes a lot of positive interactions to make up for one emotional zinger. respect.  A positive work environment inspires. feeling a sense of security. Employees have positive relationships with each other and savor the work itself. appropriate humor. one of us is not necessary…and it won’t be me! But when we go public. If we both think alike. creatively. An executive once said. In contrast. or blindly obeying than solving problems and helping the company add real value for customers.

Ideas are valued and become a clearinghouse for innovation. employees learn and move forward. When employees succeed.  Leaders who sense a conflict among employees need to teach and model skills for conflict resolution. .    A positive work environment is supported by routines that foster openness to new ideas. learning and growth. meaningful work. and seeing only one side of an issue. Leaders ask more questions and become a clearinghouse for innovation. When leaders offer performance strengths and weaknesses. blaming. Leaders build a positive work environment through caring connections by focusing on what is right more than what is wrong.   In a positive work environment. Effective communication requires redundancy. and positive impact on the work.   Win-win decision making requires understanding and buy-in.good relationships. we find work more meaningful. Ideas are valued and sought out. It is easy to fall into shouting. They help create work environments where people look out for and serve each other because people trust that the small sacrifices they make for the public good will be reciprocated. When there is a clear line of sight between what we do and what we value. not agreement will all aspects of the resolution. they have a better experience at work. expressing appreciation and gratitude. When complex or new ideas are involved. an employee knows what is expected and what he or she can expect for meeting (or not meeting) those expectations. it probably takes 10 units of communication for every unit of understanding. Leaders who emphasize other service more than self-interest demonstrate a real commitment to treat people with fairness and respect.    Leading includes setting clear goals and expectations and then following up to make sure people are accountable for results. and creating ways to celebrate both people as individuals and the work unit as a whole. not taken advantage of.

and withdrawal. They also help others reflect on their goals and take responsibility for reaching them. When work has intrinsic value. you are probably not pushing yourself hard enough. Abundance responses to change focus on learning and resilience. When they make mistakes.  Deficit responses to change are rooted in fear. When goals are missed. Vision A clear and compelling vision based on clear values and with specific goals and action steps facilitates change. the work you tried was probably not that important to you. and commitment will follow. not blaming.  If you are not failing at something. stagnation. If there is no disappointment. When the need for change is palpable. born of the belief that failure is a threat to success. failure should be disappointing.  Leaders who take seriously their meaning-creating role of honoring the past and boldly envisioning the future help others complete the transitions related the change.  Self-reflection shows up as well in leaders’ willingness to be accountable. employees do the work not only because of the outcomes of the work but also because they value and enjoy the work itself. Felt Need. learning. A Number of Keys to Successful Change Leadership Change requires a strong leader who sponsors and champions the change. it helps overcome the natural resistance to change. learning leaders run into them rather than away from them. becomes the priority. start with small. . Decisions Build a decision protocol that breaks the vision of tomorrow into decisions today. When leaders build a line of sight between action and outcome. born of the belief that failure is a path to success. Commitment Get people to act as if they are committed. visible changes to let success build success. What’s more. employees are motivated because they want those outcomes.

and budget. and how often? How do you see your work contributing to things you care about? What are you learning about yourself in this job? How do you explain what you do at work to your closest friends and family? How much energy and passion do you feel for your work? What will I be known for? How can I express my core Where am I going? Whom do I travel with? How do I build the skills of good relating? How do I build a positive work environment? What can I do to make my work environment more conducive to my work style? What challenges interest me? How can I calibrate the level of challenging to stay optimally engaged and make a significant contribution? . Measures Monitor how the change is going to ensure learning and adaptation. Great leaders not only help shape that vision or identify those problems but also help people muster the stamina and courage to keep trying. Individual competencies (ability to do the work) and commitment (willingness to do the work) are sustained and leveraged when employees see how their work makes a genuine contribution to people and causes they care about (finding meaning in the work). to keep staring down their self-doubts or fear or boredom until they get somewhere new. information and date. Delight teaches us that life’s goodness is not found in money or fame but in simple pleasures.Systems Institutionalize a change through wise investments in people. and a sense of discovery. Leaders Might Ask Questions Such As These:             How do you feel about the work you do? How do customers feel as they receive the outcomes of your work? How do you use your strengths and values at work. meaningful connections. communication. rewards.

and who help their organizations succeed. . and living in the moment? We believe that the heart of leadership is fundamentally about the creation of meaning and that leaders have a primary accountability to work with their employees to unleash it. who build the organization’s capacity to respond to business challenges. playfulness. A focus on meaning can yield employees who are more productive and committed. creativity.  How do I respond to disposability and change? How do I do a better job of making what I have enough? What delights me? How can I make more room for pleasure.

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