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It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. -Jim Collins
Research has indicated that people’s work lives are often embellished considerably, when they feel that they are making advancement on work that is meaningful and when they genuinely feel that they are making a difference in the world. Scott Keller and Colin Prince in their groundbreaking book, ‘Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage’ cited that when organizations give employees a sense of purpose, it is not only beneficial for employees but also contributes in building a robust and a powerful organization. An organization that is fully functioning and competitive.
So, why is meaning important? It has been witnessed that when people know “why” they are working, they also feel a sense of personal accountability or ownership. It gives them identity, a status, and a meaning. And as Scott Keller and Colin Prince characterizes, when people take personal ownership of work, they tend to be more committed, self motivated, internally driven and highly engaged. And that makes for better performance on all aspects.
Unfortunately, many organizations do not even try to make work purposeful for the people doing it. Managers in such organizations assume that paying people a salary is reason enough for them to work hard and to perform best to their abilities. However, extrinsic motivation can only go a limited way. It does not motivate people to be highly engaged and ingenious. In fact, the mission and vision statements of some organizations fall flat on its face, targeting only shareholders, the funds they are getting, competitive standing in the marketplace or how they shoot up sales figures.
Here is what you can do to instill every position with a great sense of meaning and purpose:
You may try asking this question in your next employee survey, “What would you do with the majority of your waking hours if you had sufficient money to live comfortably for the next 10 years?” Take cues as to what drives the employees. Try deploying a “retention test” on them which will be an eye opener for you as to where their interests lie.
Meaning is partly a state of mind. Employees may not even be aware of the opportunities that exist in the organization, likely because they were not communicated clearly. Make the connection between individual jobs and the purpose of the organization.
Encourage ex employees, eminent people or clients to give testimonials at annual functions or town halls. Start a twinning culture between employees and clients. Share client stories and videos with employees and how your organization helped them.
Start by conducting surveys, get ideas and empower employees to implement them.
Conduct training programs for managers so that they can effectively manage a team.
Cultivate a workplace environment that communicates that the organization cares about its employees and helps them grow professionally.
Keep the employees informed about any organizational change that takes place, inform them why the change is occurring and provide them adequate support and training to deal with the changes.
In the end, create meaning rather than searching for it. Making meaning is a creative and co-creative process.
Originally published April 1 2018, Updated June 16 2020