How leaders can help employees understand the Meaning of Their Work
Quint Studer says ALL jobs matter. Here, he shares why it’s important for leaders to connect people to the purpose behind their work—and offers advice for getting started
Some jobs by their very nature seem more meaningful than others. But really, all jobs are potentially meaningful. All companies serve their customers, their stakeholders, and their workforce, and the employees are in a unique position to make a real difference. Quint Studer says it’s up to leaders to help people see this. Great leaders create an environment where employees feel valued (and valuable), and this is what connects them to purpose.
“There is no such thing as a job that does not count,” says Studer, author of Wall Street Journal bestseller The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive (Wiley, October 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-57664-8, $28.00). “And yet, we tend to work in environments where an employee is more likely to hear about their work when there is a problem. It is assumed that the impact of work is obvious, and because of that, leaders are not taking time to emphasize to each worker the why of their job and the important contribution it makes.”
Research shows that 53 percent of workers wish they had more insight into the effect their contributions have on their company’s success. Further, there’s a big disconnect illustrating that while leaders may think they’re doing a good job of helping employees understand their company’s purpose, they really aren’t. See these statistics from a Deloitte survey:
- 47 percent of executives strongly agree that they can identify with their company’s purpose, compared to just 30 percent of employees.
- 44 percent of executives say leaders set an example of living that company’s purpose. Only 25 percent of employees agree.
- 41 percent of executives say the company’s purpose plays a role in major business decisions, compared to 28 percent of employees.
- 38 percent of leaders say their organization’s purpose is clearly communicated, compared to 31 percent of employees.
Numbers like these make it clear: It is the job of the leader to take time on a regular basis to help each employee understand the importance of their role and the impact it has on the organization. While the contribution made by the worker may seem obvious, the leader needs to help them connect the dots.
“Consider that person in the billing department, the one who may not see a customer’s face day to day,” says Studer. “They need to know that by doing a good job in accurate billing, it allows the organization to do better financially, which goes to pay employees. When they know this, it helps them more clearly see their sense of purpose.”
Billing may not be thought of as “glamorous,” but the reality is that human beings can find meaning and fulfillment in all kinds of jobs. Here are a few tips on helping your employees connect the dots on meaning and purpose.
Explain to each worker how what they do impacts customers and coworkers
Remember, making a difference doesn’t have to mean saving the world. It can be as simple as being the best florist in town or being the restaurant that serves up the most delicious burgers and shakes. Narrate this to employees. Help them connect the dots on how they make a difference in people’s lives and in the success of the organization.
“We work hard at the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to let the employees know the positive impact they have on attendees,” says Studer. “From David the ticket taker saying, ‘Welcome!’ to Paula on the landing at the first flight of stairs yelling, ‘Waaaahoooooo!’ to Travis or Stewart saying hello at the second flight of stairs, to Treneshia the usher saying, ‘Welcome; let me help you,’ every person contributes to making the fans happy. Great fan satisfaction means more people attend the games. More attendees mean more jobs. More jobs mean better quality of life.”
Drill down on the why
An article on Inc.com (the one that shared the Deloitte statistics referenced earlier) suggests going up to employees and asking them why they’re doing the task they’re doing. The author explains: “Their immediate answer might be because it’s part of the project they’re working on. Ask them why they’re working on that project. When they give an answer, ask why again. Follow this chain long enough and you should eventually arrive at your company’s mission statement.”
Connect with customers and share that you like to recognize staff. Ask if there are any staff members they would like you to recognize and why
Being very specific about what they did or said (or both) to positively impact customers will mean more to the employee. It will also reinforce that behavior so the employee will be more likely to repeat it. Customer praise and gratitude can have a huge impact on an employee’s sense of meaning and purpose.
Ask recognized employees who is helping them behind the scenes. Then, pass the message along to them
“People who provide direct customer service will get the most compliments, so when recognizing these folks, ask them who supports them that the customer does not see,” says Studer. “Think accountants, cooks and dishwashers, and other back-of-house employees. Take the time to recognize these people as well and connect them back to their role in the customer experience.”
Share meaningful stories every chance you get
When you are talking to customers you will hear stories about how much your company’s product or service means to them. Quite often, they will share details and expressions of gratitude that staff may not hear. Make it your business to make sure all employees hear those stories. Share them at staff meetings, in company newsletters, on your website and social media pages, and in casual conversations. Stories are very powerful because they resonate on a human level. People remember them. These don’t have to be huge events. Simple things work just fine.
Finally, pay passion and purpose forward by thanking people outside your company
When you receive great service, whether it’s from a TSA employee, a ticket taker at a theater, a server at a restaurant, or an usher at the baseball game, let them know they are making a difference. It’s amazing how seldom they hear this.
“Many years ago, my dear friend Norm Adams went up to a street cleaner in New Orleans to thank him for what he was doing and to share that his work made the visit so much better,” says Studer. “Watching this, I could see man’s face brighten up. After Norm walked on, I stayed to ask the street sweeper a few questions. I asked how long he had been doing this work and he shared that he had been street sweeping many years. I then asked him how often people stop to say thank you. He told me this was the first time.”
“We can all help employees feel that powerful sense of meaning and purpose,” concludes Studer. “Not only will our company’s performance improve, everyone will enjoy their job so much more. There is nothing quite like going to work every day at a company filled with people who are fueled by a true passion for what they do. It makes every day a learning experience, an adventure, and a path for personal and professional growth.”
About the Author:
Quint Studer is the author of Wall Street Journal bestseller The Busy Leader’s Handbook and a lifelong businessman, entrepreneur, and student of leadership. He not only teaches it; he has done it. He has worked with individuals at all levels and across a variety of industries to help them become better leaders and create high-performing organizations. He seeks always to simplify high-impact leader behaviors and tactics for others.
Quint has a great love for teaching his insights in books and has authored nine of them in addition to The Busy Leader’s Handbook. His book Results That Last also made the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Building a Vibrant Community, published in 2018, is a blueprint for communities seeking to revitalize themselves.
Quint is the founder of Vibrant Community Partners and Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute. He currently serves as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida, Executive-in-Residence at George Washington University, and Lecturer at Cornell University.
About the Book:
The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive (Wiley, October 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-57664-8, $28.00) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book’s page at www.wiley.com.