Make Meaningful Work as Important as Results
How well do you and your leaders balance performance and meaning in your workplace?
If the only things that leaders demand are results and performance, players in your organization will do their best to deliver those things. This singular emphasis on results can, however, cause players to operate from an “I win, you lose” philosophy - and act to inhibit others’ performance while they maximize their own.
When players in your organization understand the context for their work and how their work benefits others in their communities, they have a hard time discounting that meaningfulness. They, in fact, are inspired by it and drawn to it.
Meaningful work is equally as important as results, but too many leaders focus exclusively on results. That’s not surprising, since it’s very likely that their bosses - present and past - focused exclusively on results, as well.
A balance of meaning and results enables players to act from inspiration and cooperation, not purely from competition.
My best boss had this balance down to an art form. Every project we took on was carefully positioned and aligned with our team’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals. We spent time discussing how a project or a goal would move our team forward AND would benefit our customers and members of our community.
We acted from a place of thorough understanding of the meaning and significance of our work, not just the results we were striving for. Each of us could articulate how our plans, decisions, and actions aligned with our team purpose and values, plus how they boosted service to our community members.
How do you build relevance for meaningful work at work? You craft your team’s (or department’s or company’s) organizational constitution and align all behaviors and practices to it.
An organizational constitution is a formal document that specifies your team’s present day purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals.
Your team’s purpose, values, and behaviors are the foundation of meaningful work - of service to others. Your team’s strategies and goals are the foundation of desired results - delivering on the promises you make to customers and consumers.
A clear purpose builds relevance for meaningful work by specifying your team’s “reason for being” beyond making money. Making money is inspiring for your owners and stakeholders but it has little tactical relevance to front line employees. Making money doesn’t naturally inspire them.
An effective present day purpose statement should answer three questions: What does your team do? For whom do they do it? To what end does your team do it - how do customers and community benefit when it’s done well?
Here are two examples. The first is from a manufacturing company, which states their purpose as, “Creating superior value for our customers, employees, partners, and shareholders."
What does this company do? It’s impossible to tell. They could make window blinds or drinking fountains. The only output they refer to is “superior value,” which doesn’t specify their product or service.
Whom do they do it for (whatever superior value means)? Just about everyone. Again, they are not specific.
To what end is this company toiling - and how do customers and community benefit? There is no clarity here.
The second example, from a pharmaceutical company, states their purpose is “to discover, develop, and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases."
What does this company do? They discover, develop, and deliver innovative medicines.
For whom do they do it? For patients with serious diseases.
To what end is this company toiling? To help these patients prevail over their diseases.
Rather a different context with this second purpose statement, wouldn’t you agree? It is crisp, clear, powerful, and inviting.
A purpose statement like this creates a firm foundation for meaningful work AND desired results. Values and aligned behaviors deepen employee engagement and commitment - but it all starts with an effective purpose statement.