There is plenty of evidence that shows that what motivates people to stay engaged and do their best at work is when they feel their work is meaningful. As I discussed in an earlier post, I think most jobs have meaningful aspects, and highlighting these is key to building and retaining great teams. Here are three tips for managers on how to promote meaningful work among your employees.
At one of my earlier firms, we had a rule that people should add a line to their résumé each year about the new and valuable skills and experience they have acquired. That rule keeps both the company and the employees on their toes because you know that if you don’t continue to provide opportunities for people to learn and grow, they will leave.
People develop best if you have a culture of autonomy and accountability where they can take ownership of their work and make decisions. Sometimes this may involve throwing people in the deep end, but that is often where people learn best. My first job was in a boutique management consulting firm that had a big contract for the government raising awareness of what was known as electronic data interchange (essentially a way of commercially contracting over what became the Internet). I was presenting to CFOs when I was 23 years old in this project. It was a big challenge, but I learned so much.
Conversely, not letting people take full responsibility holds them back. I once interviewed a very talented person who was running a 70-person team on a client site. However, when I probed further, although she had a big team, she had little or no interaction with the client—that was her boss’s boss’s job. He gave the bad news; he asked for change controls. So, although on paper she was a superstar, she hadn’t acquired the vital skills of dealing directly with the customer on the cut and thrust. I chose not to hire her.
Share the Vision
If you don’t share the vision of the future with everyone across the company, you can’t take people with you. People really want to know how the business is doing and where it is headed, but according to a survey we did at Kimble called ‘Dedicated but in the Dark, 3 out of 4 employees don’t feel in the loop.
If you don’t know what success looks like, how will you know when you achieve it? At a previous company I founded, instead of looking at the year’s numbers and extrapolating a percentage increase going forward, we did a session with the whole company in which we used the analogy of a time machine. We asked what the company would look like in terms of numbers and revenue in the future, and then we considered what the impact on management structure and culture would be if we imagined that scenario. Then, we worked backward to understand what the evolution path was and what would have to have been achieved to reach the imagined point.
This exercise was a powerful way to help people in the business understand why change had to happen and how their role fit into the shared vision of success.
Validate the Right Things
Job satisfaction also comes from feeling you are a valued member of a winning team. My old business partner used to say something along the lines of, “In a growing business, you can always find meaningful work for people to do, but if you have a downturn and have to lose people it’s really hard to reallocate that work.”
Constantly prioritize the effort that goes into the external-facing work that the organization is meant to be doing. In some companies, a lot of energy goes inward on internal politics—or making life easier for the people higher up in the hierarchy. Instead, ensure the business validates great customer service and teamwork. I heard recently about a big firm that has introduced group incentives—everyone on the team gets a day off if 80% adopt some new processes. That is an interesting idea. Encourage things that help people work better together and communicate, whether it is a fantasy football league across a global team or regular pizza and beer nights in the office.
At the end of the day, most people will appreciate being part of a growing and successful business that values its employees and serves its customers well.
Mark Robinson, serial entrepreneur and cofounder of Kimble Applications, has more than 25 years’ experience in the IT consulting industry. In addition to founding the company, he also serves as Chief Marketing Officer where is he is responsible for business development, channel management, and market analysis. Mark started his career in management consulting before working for Oracle Corporation where he witnessed first-hand their rise from start-up to software giant. He started his first IT Consultancy Company, Fulcrum Solutions, in 1997 and cofounded IT consultancy Edenbrook in 2001.