Failure is part of success
Six tips to improve your leadership decisions
We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes — understanding that failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of success. — Arianna Huffington
Our decisions help define us as individuals and organizations — our great decisions and our poor ones. We can never entirely eliminate imperfect decisions. As Ms. Huffington suggests, we can learn from them and build successes after even our largest failures. There are also some things we can do to decrease their likelihood.
Play to your strengths. As with most things in life, self-awareness helps. Making decisions is no different. Are there some patterns about how we make decisions?
Is there something we do that tends to lead to better decisions? Are there questions we ask of ourselves and others that help us?
Manage your weaknesses. It’s also important to know what aspects of helpful decision-making we tend to naturally neglect.
Do you think primarily about financial metrics and fail to consider how a decision will affect people? Do you find it hard to think about consequences one year out? Two years out? Further?
Include people in your decision-making who think differently than you.
These principles can also help you manage weaknesses that are common to all us — the tendency to seek out information that confirms our current beliefs or opinions.
Having those around us who can present alternative views without the threat of dismissal can help us make better decisions.
Align your decisions. It’s easy in the midst of a fast-moving world to neglect the anchors or guides we intentionally create to help us when we need to make decisions.
For example, if your organization has put a stake in the group to focus on innovation, you have a primary filter for making decisions. Will this action enable innovation? But that question alone is not enough. The follow up question should be “How will this enable innovation?” If you can’t clearly explain that to yourself, you’ll never be able to explain it to others.
Be happy. Cool off. Our emotional state is a key influence on our ability to make decisions. With a slightly elevated mood, we have more insights and can see more options both of which are important to making decisions. When we’re angry or upset we tend to take fewer risks and are less likely to reframe our options to allow for better decisions.
Test it. When possible, test your preferred option in appropriate ways. Act “smartly” as quickly as you can. This means that you act quickly with the resources currently available to you, you know what an “acceptable loss” is and you don’t exceed it, and that you “bring others along to acquire more resources; spread the risk, and confirm the quality of your idea.”
A simple example of this principle is a pilot project.
Do something. Research suggests that we regret not taking action more than taking action. We regret not going to college, not taking risks in our job, more even than choices that weren’t the best decisions in hindsight.
These are just a few helpful principles to begin to improve your decision-making. You’ll learn more as you honestly assess the effectiveness of your decisions and are open to changing how you make decisions.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to make decisions that are congruent with what you stand for, you may reach him at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.
Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity. — Michael Porter
Innovation is on the lips of almost every business leader in the U.S. and probably the world. Each of us loves those moments when, like Archimedes, we can cry out that we’ve solved a vexing problem.
In addition, government leaders are also focused on innovation as the key to economic success. The White House document, A Strategy for American Innovation, includes the following assertions:
■ America’s future economic growth and international competitiveness depend on our capacity to innovate.
■ The American people will do best when their inventive, entrepreneurial spirit is unleashed. Government policy must nurture that spirit and ensure it is not deterred.
Take steps to enhance inventiveness
Let’s assume for a moment that these statements about nurturing entrepreneurial spirit and harnessing our inherent ingenuity to ensure our nation’s economic success are true. If the policy document referenced above effectively does that, are there ways business leaders can take greater advantage of this infrastructure? Are there ways to enhance that inherent ingenuity?
According to researchers in neuroscience, that answer is yes.
Let’s look at one example of what doesn’t work to spawn innovation. Most of us have heard, in one form or another, the idea of the “burning platform.” It is often used to simply communicate the reasons why any change needs to be made. The challenge is that true burning platforms are emergencies, which aren’t fertile ground for innovation.
The key principle here is that fear is not an effective long-term motivator. If your message is, “We need to be innovative or our competition is going to put us out of business,” you might want to rethink your message. Fear may work in putting out a literal fire, but it doesn’t work when new ideas are needed.
Give a little space
So, what does neuroscience tell us can be done to help fuel innovation? One example — give people some space. Think of this as the opposite of cramming the night before your mid-term exams. Research led by David Creswell at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that complex problem-solving is enhanced by stepping away from a problem by using a “distractor task.”
The distractor task should be sufficiently difficult to ensure that you’re not focused on the complex problem you’re trying to solve. For example, a distractor task could be something as common as a Sudoku or crossword puzzle.
It’s important within a business context to ensure that the task is different from the problem you’re trying to solve. Don’t distract yourself with the branding challenge of one division with the branding challenge of another.
Let go of the problem for a moment
According to one executive coach, no one solves complex problems at will. The answers may suddenly arrive either in the middle of the night or while you do something pleasant and repetitive.
The point is that you have to let go of the problem for the solution to come to you. This quality often surprises people, but keep in mind that our unconscious processing resources are much larger than our conscious ones.
So, fear can be effective for short-term emergencies, but for long-term innovation needed to compete in the marketplace, creating an environment that promotes innovation requires giving your employees time to process and the space to do it. ●
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. Reach him at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.”
What business are you in?
Building the answers to the questions above is not a discrete process — the answers are linked. This is the primary reason that just having an expression of your mission, vision and values isn’t enough. Without answers to all these questions, you won’t be able to outrun the competition over the long-term.
"Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What's in it for me?’” — Brian Tracy
If you listen to HR directors or marketers, they will tell you that the starting point — or at least a key — to influencing your stakeholders is to address the question, “What’s in it for me?” Often referred to in corporate speak as WIIFM, this is a legitimate question.
We all have an interest in ensuring that we have our needs met. Every interaction or relationship has a degree of self-interest that doesn’t qualify as selfishness. To ignore that is to guarantee our failure as leaders. But it’s not enough.
As leaders we need to recognize that people yearn for benefits for others as well. It is in our nature to be relational. In his book, “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others,” Daniel Pink suggests three qualities and three abilities that can enhance our influence in ways that are consistent with human nature and recognize that desire to make a positive difference in the world.
He first posits the following three qualitiesas the new ABCs of selling.
Attunement is described as the “capacity to take someone else’s perspective and calibrate your words and actions to another’s point of view.” It’s the challenge of communicating and delivering services and messages so others can understand them and receive them.
Buoyancy is defined as the “capacity to stay afloat on what one salesman calls ‘an ocean of rejection.’” What person hasn’t seen the value of persistence in the face of continual opposition?
Clarity is described by Pink as the “capacity to make sense of murky situations … and to move from problem-solving to problem-finding.”
Whether you’re selling a service, a product or serving on a school board, being able to see the factors contributing to the problem at hand is essential to helping others and moving them to effective solutions.
It is on the abilities side where an inappropriate focus on WIIFM falls short. The third ability that Pink points to is Service (the other two are Pitch and Improvise). He calls this “the final secret to moving others.”
Service is the foundation from which the other principles flow: If your sales force or you as a leader are not perceived as helpful, all the improvising, pitching, clarity, buoyancy and attunement won’t help you build a sustainable business. However, when people can see that you truly want to help them, these other principles can help you.
Pink breaks this ability down into two parts: make it personal and make it purposeful. One aspect of the value of making it personal is in recognizing those you’re seeking to influence as people.
Making it purposeful is seen in Pink’s examples of “emotionally intelligent signage,” such as a sign in a church lawn that says, “Children play here. Pick up after your dog,” rather than just “Pick up after your dog.”
Adding “Children play here” reminds people that it’s more than a rule. It moves from being a regulatory requirement to a reasonable request.
Finally, Pink proposes a philosophy of “servant selling.” Applying a “servant selling” framework to your need to influence your employees could lead to questions like,
“Will my employees’ lives be better if they do what I’m asking? When we accomplish our shared goals, will the world be a better place than when we began?”
So for organizational leaders, our three tips are as follows:
Make it personal. Move beyond solving a puzzle to serving a person.
Make it purposeful. How will this decision or business deal make the world a better place?
Make it possible. When leading employees make sure you give them the resources to get the job done.
Following these three principals will increase the probability that fewer people will ask, “What’s in it for me?”
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to align your efforts to move others to your organizational identity, reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.
A colleague of mine used to live in Russia and was stuck in more than a few traffic jams on those rare occasions when he wasn’t on the subway or a bus. Moscow, a city of more than 10 million people, had a highway system built for fewer cars.
The Russian word for traffic jam is probka — which also refers to a “cork,” which one might encounter in a bottle. When you think about it, that’s an apt description for a traffic jam.
In a similar way, our thinking and the organizations we lead can get “bottled up” too if we don’t have an effective system for reining in our attention and focus.
Thinking can be a bottleneck
One type of bottleneck that can occur is with our thinking. We have all experienced what one psychologist calls a “response selection bottleneck.” This happens when our brains try to react to multiple stimuli at the same time. For example, the “multitasking” CEO allows bottlenecks to occur when he or she believes that it’s possible to effectively tackle two conscious tasks at once.
We know, of course, that most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time. But, as John Medina states in “Brain Rules,” we are “biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” Medina suggests that we really can’t listen effectively to the conference call and respond to email at the same time.
What is actually happening when we think we’re multitasking is that we’re doing what some call “switch tasking” — we’re switching our attention from one task to another. Some of us may do it more quickly than others, but our brain isn’t really processing two tasks at once.
The most common contemporary example of this fight for attention in our everyday lives is — you guessed it — talking on a cell phone while driving. Medina points out that those talking on the phone are a “half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies” because our brains have to switch tasks, and this eats up critical time. He adds that “50 percent of the visual cues spotted by attentive drivers are missed by cell-phone talkers.”
Not only are there limits for individuals, but the organizations we lead have similar limits. Are there organizational decisions stuck at a bottleneck because you have too many competing priorities?
Our organizations are often very complex, which makes it hard for employees to focus on what will lead to individual, team and organizational success. We’re all working longer hours, often feeling like we’re moving from treading water to drowning.
How do we distinguish the imperative from the important?
Here are five tips to get started:
? Identify what you’re best at.
? Figure out what your key stakeholders value and need most.
? Identify where your answers to 1 and 2 intersect.
? Define how you deliver value differently than your competition.
? Develop a clear and authentic way to communicate your value.
As one psychology professor puts it, “We’re really built to focus.” What are you giving your organization to focus on?
P.S. As a bonus tip, when meeting with your senior team to discuss the tips above, are there at least portions of your meetings when everyone’s smartphone can go into a black box until you’re finished? ?
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” To explore how to promote organizational sync through greater focus, you may reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When significant change is on the horizon for your business, it is important to recognize how people react to the unknown.
In an article by David Rock, the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, two broad themes are discussed.
The first is that each of us is driven by an “overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward.” Those immersed in the drama of an acquisition are biologically driven to wondering and worrying about what will happen to the existing social order.
The second theme is that there are parallels between the way we respond to how well our social needs are met and how we respond to the meeting of our physical needs. He cites a study indicating that it hurts just as a much to be left out as it does to experience a hammer meeting our thumb.
Rock proposes a model, SCARF, which includes these two themes as a way to help us navigate what can trigger reward or threat behaviors in social situations. The model, in short, is as follows:
Status - This refers to how important we are or perceive we are within a particular group. When a company is acquired, employees may believe they will be viewed as lower on the totem pole than employees within the acquiring company.
What can you do?
Promote a culture of respect in which everyone’s opinion is valued in ways appropriate for their areas of expertise. When discrete events occur (e.g., promotions, acquisitions, etc.), be proactive in communicating how and why personnel decisions have been or will be made.
Certainty - Certainty refers to the need our brain has to respond to recognizable patterns. When we can’t, error messages akin to a “flashing printer icon” go on.
What can you do? Be clear. Be as specific as possible. For big projects, break them down into specific steps. In individual interactions, remember that the level of clarity necessary will be different for each person. When details are pending, promise that more details will follow, communicate a timeline for the additional information and deliver on that promise.
Autonomy - The third point refers to how much choice and control we perceive we have over our lives. As a leader, do you find yourself telling others what to do in their area of expertise? If so, you may be restricting their autonomy.
What can you do? Don’t micromanage. Enough said?
Relatedness - This refers to whether or not someone is “in” or “out” of your group. We’re all familiar with the student who doesn’t have an “in” group and sits by himself at lunch. His brain is firing the message that he’s on the outside looking in.
One way to promote relatedness is to encourage affinity groups. These could be either related or unrelated to workplace initiatives. Be a role model. Make an effort to relate to people that may be on the outside looking in.
Fairness - The fifth and final point refers to the belief that others aren’t being treated preferentially. Think executive elevators, executive washrooms, etc.
What can you do? Be clear about your reasons for decisions you make and changes that must be made. Be clear about the “why” and “how” of your decisions. There should be no hint that you’re trying to hide an unfair process by not being transparent about your reasons.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to promote organizational sync by minimizing threat responses, you may reach Andy Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.
Who hasn’t felt like they’ve been misled by what certain companies profess?
The recording that states, “Your call is very important to us” as you wait 15 minutes to speak to a human being. The bait and switch buried in the fine print of an advertisement.
Businesses, through both behavior and words, suggest that we can expect certain things from them.
These promises are critical to an organization’s identity since potential customers need to know what they can expect from a business before an investment is made. You need a central promise that makes it clear how your business is different than your peers.
Some call it a brand promise. Others call it a brand essence, a differentiator or a unique selling proposition. We happen to call it “signature strength.”
Some businesses clearly do it better than others. Historically, Volvo has been very clear about its promise: safety. While it remains to be seen how its new corporate and brand strategy — “Designed Around You” — will affect the safety record of Volvo’s cars and the public’s perception of the safety promise, Volvo’s past is one of a clear brand promise of safety.
What makes a promise work?
First, the Volvo promise was very clear. There was no confusion about what Volvo wanted to be and wanted consumers to believe. Your customers and consumers need to know how you are different. How else will they know whether or not to try you out?
Secondly, Volvo’s promise was authentic; it was genuine. The surest way to failure is to erode trust by not delivering on your promise.
Third, the promise was simple; there were no qualifiers. As humans, our capacity to retain detail about thousands of brands is understandably limited. Every time we have to process unfamiliar details, our prefrontal cortex devours energy. The Volvo promise was simple. Safety. Period.
Finally, the Volvo promise was relevant. Every car needs to be safe because people are concerned about safety for their children and themselves.
In addition to being characterized by clarity, authenticity, simplicity and relevance, some leaders find it helpful to categorize their central promise.
The insights of Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema in their book, “The Discipline of Market Leaders,” is helpful to many. After studying 80 corporations in 36 markets, they concluded that there are three broad value disciplines: operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy. Each provides a unique customer value.
These companies are masters of execution that is achieved through standardized, centrally planned operations. Control and efficiency are hallmarks of cultures. Think Walmart.
These companies focus on offering products or services that go beyond the norm and push performance beyond current limits. They are at the vanguard of their industry and are rewarded for their innovation. Think Apple.
Companies in this segment focus on satisfying unique needs and building custom solutions. They aspire to be experts in what their customers need and create lasting, loyal relationships. The cultures at these companies empower their people to do what it takes to meet the needs of customers. Think Nordstrom.
Treacy and Wiersema rightly suggest that one can’t excel in all three value disciplines since being all things to all people is a losing game. Their solution is to choose one to excel at — providing the foundation for your signature strength — and be good at the other two disciplines.
What discipline are you the best at? Or perhaps a better question to ask is what discipline do you need to be the best at? Once you decide which value discipline is the best fit, how will you communicate your central promise to your stakeholders in ways that are clear, authentic, simple and relevant?
Whatever you decide, don’t let your promise outrun your performance.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to discover or maximize your signature strength, you may reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.
? Roger Ebert, film critic
The 2012 State of St. Louis Workforce Report says that the No. 1 shortcoming of recent hires is the “lack of communication or interpersonal skills.” Also in the top 10 were a “lack of teamwork and collaboration” and “lack of willingness and ability to learn.”
Commissioned by Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College and conducted in partnership with the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, the report seems to suggest that elements of what we often call emotional intelligence are valued but lacking in recent hires.
Why is this important to leaders? There are several reasons.
First, it should give us pause to examine how well we as leaders stack up. Are we exhibiting the qualities we deem lacking in others?
Secondly, it suggests that we should seriously think about whether or not these are the talent deficits we see in our business. If these are the deficits, what will we do about them? How do our attraction efforts need to change? How do our employee development initiatives need to change?
What is emotional intelligence?
In “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, the authors’ definition of “how leaders handle themselves and their relationships” is expanded through the explanation of four domains of emotional intelligence and their associated competencies.
At this point, some leaders may think that while this is interesting, they still just need to hire smart leaders who want to work hard.
Fair enough, as we certainly need to do that. But, the authors suggest that emotional intelligence “contributes 80 to 90 percent of the competencies that distinguish outstanding from average leaders — and sometimes more.”
They admit that this is a “rule of thumb” and a precise measure is dependent on many factors. But we know, as leaders, that we’ve seen great ideas flounder or die because advocates weren’t aware of how they were coming across or hadn’t built up the people capital necessary to support the idea.
Regardless of the ratios involved, the authors are onto something: Emotional intelligence is a significant aspect of leadership.
So, how does one incorporate recognition of the importance of emotional intelligence into leadership development efforts? If a leader needs to develop an aspect of emotional intelligence, is it even possible for that person to change?
What are emotional styles?
Dr. Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley, authors of “The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live — and How You Can Change Them,” suggest that it is possible for people to adapt certain emotional patterns.
Using his 30 years of research in affective neuroscience, Davidson has identified six “emotional styles.”
Resilience: How rapidly or slowly does one recover from adversity?
Outlook: How long does positive emotion persist following a joyful event?
Social Intuition: How accurate is one in detecting the non-verbal social cues of others?
Context: How well do you regulate your emotions to take your context into account?
Self-Awareness: How aware are you of bodily signals that constitute emotion?
Attention: How focused are you?
Even a cursory review of the six emotional styles will lead one to see connections to important dimensions of emotional intelligence. What if you could help your team members bounce back more quickly from setbacks? What if you could keep a positive attitude that helps keep the troops motivated and promotes creativity? How could you become either more focused or less single-minded? Each point should have relevance to you. Would that be worth some time and effort for you to explore?
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to use the principles of neuroscience to promote better organizational alignment, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.
Does your company have alignment between its mission, its vision and its strategy? If you don’t, you may want to ask yourself if everyone on your team is on the same page as to what those terms mean to your business.
Maybe you’re like a former client of ours who knew that having a clearly stated and motivating mission was important, but wasn’t sure what a “mission” was or how to lead his team to either create one or uncover the one they were already living.
It may be that “mission” is not something that motivates you as a leader. It’s perfectly natural that some aspects of an organizational identity are not equally motivating to us as leaders.
At the same time, as leaders, we need to recognize that we work with and lead others who do find “mission” to be important. They will evaluate us as leaders and our organization based on whether or not we have a clear mission and whether or not we can deliver on that mission.
One of the most common definitions for mission is to answer the question, “Why do we exist?” For example, Nestlé Purina PetCare has a mission to “enrich the lives of pets and the people who love them.” Notice they didn’t declare a mission to sell the best (or most) pet food or pet care products. While we can safely assume that they want to do both, they’ve chosen to declare a reason for being that connects to those they serve: pets and consumers.
Answering the question of why you exist is helpful to many, but it can sometimes be too abstract for certain organizations and people who prefer the concrete. It can sound like you’re about to launch into a discussion of Socrates’ view of virtue rather than address concrete business issues. There are alternatives that get at the same concept in more concrete ways.
The first is to ask a broad cross section of employees the question, “What problems do we solve for our clients/customers?” Of course, one can also ask your clients/customers directly, “What problems do we solve for you?” This phrasing often helps employees and clients describe the value that you bring in a more concrete form. From that data, one can begin to see patterns that demonstrate the value that you bring to your external stakeholders.
You could also ask employees and customers, “How do we help you?” or “What difference do we make in your life/business?” Follow it up with, “Tell me about why that is important to you?” and you can get to answers that resonate more on an emotional level.
Imagine someone asking a consumer, Mrs. Johnson, who buys Nestlé Purina’s Dog Chow the following series of questions:
Interviewer: Tell me about why you buy Purina Dog Chow.
Mrs. Johnson: Our dog, Butch, likes it.
Interviewer: What other reasons are there?
Mrs. Johnson: He’s been very healthy eating Dog Chow, so that’s important to us.
Interviewer: So tell me why that is important to you and your family. The answer may seem obvious, but go ahead and tell me anyway.
Mrs. Johnson: Well, I know that when I buy Dog Chow, Butch is going to be happy, healthy and ready to play with our family. He has brought immense joy to our family, and we want that to last for as long as possible.
You have a choice when you describe your mission. You can make a laundry list of things you do, or you can describe the difference that you make in the lives of those we serve.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to better align your business to an inspiring mission, you may reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence,” the authors tell the story of a manager who used cars in the parking lot as a barometer of her team’s collective emotions after a merger. Immediately after the merger announcement, she noticed full parking lots even late into the evening.
She interpreted this as an extra level of excitement about the potential opportunities afforded by the merger. Over time, and as post-merger change initiatives foundered, the number of cars decreased, and she interpreted this as decreasing excitement and commitment.
But she also noticed that certain cars were a constant. There were “pockets of people” that remained productive and happy in the midst of delays in progress with the merger. What she found was that most people who endured the change with positivity were protected from the disorder by leaders who included them in the process of change, gave them needed information and provided as much control as possible over their destiny.
Effective leaders know how to promote engagement regardless of the strength of the winds of change — or in this case the lack of progress.
Something in our business environments is always changing — either internally or externally. In addition, something in our business environments is always stalled. Leaders need to understand how to keep the energy level up during challenging times.
Some of the most effective leadership behaviors during tough times are illustrated in this post-merger example: Include your team as much as possible, give them critical information and allow team members the appropriate level of autonomy so they feel they have some level of control over their immediate work environment.
The authors of “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work,” offer another key component of engagement. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer suggest that “of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
Think about the last time a key corporate client said to you, “You guys are integral to our success; we couldn’t have done this without you.” Were your steps a little lighter that day? After celebrating that success with others and thanking all involved for their contributions, how much more motivated were you to do a great job for that client? How much more motivated was your team?
As leaders, we need to ensure that our employees are not only making progress with organizational goals, but that they believe that their work matters. How do we do that?
There are several key principles to keep in mind: First, of course, is that people find meaning in their work in different ways. Some derive value primarily by how much they please your customers. Others focus almost exclusively on what they can acquire from their employment: status, money, etc. Others want to build an organization or army of people who will accomplish something great for its own sake and some simply derive pleasure from getting things done. What they do is less important than the accomplishment of achieving goals. Finally, there are people who find meaning by working with others who are like a family to them.
While none of us typically focus exclusively on just one source of meaning, it helps to remember that people do extract different primary sources of meaning and that leaders and managers need to have this in mind as they seek to lead others.
Second, once you know how your team members find meaning, make sure you don’t obscure it. Be clear about how what your team is doing connects to something beyond the day-to-day tasks in ways that has meaning to each person.
Finally, if you lead the entire organization, be clear with everyone, not just your team, on how the strategies, initiatives and measurable goals connect to different sources of meaning.
Helping people see the links between the progress they are making in their daily tasks and the meaning in their lives or the lives of others is one of the key tasks of leadership. Doing this well can only serve to fuel the fire of full engagement for your employees and for you.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to get greater alignment behind systemic organizational changes, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.