How to “take a hard line on the soft issues”
Many of those who get “fired up” about a new job, a new assignment, a new promotion, etc. eventually become “burned out” by it. What we have in this volume, written by Michael L. Stallard with Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau, is a remarkably thoughtful and sensitive examination of the causes and effects of this familiar workplace situation. Stallard observes that, “Although people generally enter their organizations fired up, over time most work environments reduce that inner fire from a flame to a flicker.” Why? They lack “connection” with others, especially with their supervisors and immediate associates. As a result, they have unmet needs; more specifically, to be respected, recognized, included and accepted.
In this context, I presume to share a complaint I hear constantly: Being held accountable to achieve results without receiving any explanation of the ultimate objectives, much less an explanation of the given assignment’s relevance to achieving those objectives. Worse yet, not being provided with sufficient resources. And even worse yet, having no “say” about how the given work will be done. Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux have much of value to say about all this in The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail.
Stallard asserts that “the lack of connection will gradually burn [employees] out. Organizational environments where connection is low or absent diminish [employees'] physical and mental health. They create a low level of toxicity that drains [their] energy, poisons [their] attitudes, and impacts [their ability and willingness] to be productive.” It is difficult (if not impossible) to calculate the total cost of such a situation, including its impact on customer relationships and retention of valued employees. The potential damage and (yes) cost of a group’s disconnection must be at least the number of people in a given group compounded by a factor of 3-5, if not greater.
Over the years, various questionnaires and surveys have been conducted among many millions of people, asking respondents to rank what is most important to them in a relationship with an organization either as an employee or as a customer. With very few exceptions, “feeling appreciated” was ranked among the top three…with compensation or cost ranked anywhere from 9-14, depending on the given feedback mechanism. Stallard cites one Gallup Organization study that suggests that only 25% of employees are engaged in their jobs, 55% of are just going through the motions, and that 20% of them are undermining efforts to achieve their employers’ objectives. He also cites a study of 50,000 employees at 59 global companies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board. One of its most significant revelations is that “emotional factors were four times more effective in increasing employee engagement rather than rational ones.” I presume to suggest that it is no coincidence that many of the companies listed on Fortune magazine annual list of those “most admired” are also on its annual list of those most profitable and many of them are #1 in their respective industry.
In collaboration with Dewing-Hommes and Pankau, Stallard carefully organizes the material within four Parts: “What Fires Us Up?”; “The Three Keys to Connecting Your Team and Lighting Their Fires: Vision, Value, and Voice”; “The Fire Starts with You: become a Person of Character and Connection to Ignite the Team Around You”; and finally, “Learn from Twenty Great Leaders Over Twenty Days.” Appendix A provides “Questions to Assess Organizational Culture and Connection.”
Stallard and his collaborators focus almost all of their attention on “how” when addressing challenges such as these:
1. How an individual, a group, and (eventually) an entire organization can establish and then sustain emotional connections others
2. How a clear and compelling vision can “ignite” commitment throughout the given enterprise
3. How shared values can nourish human development
4. How giving “voice” to an individual, group, and organization can expedite knowledge flow
5. How to become “a person of character and connection who ignites the team around you”
Of special interest to me is the material provided in Part IV. (That said, I must emphasize the obvious: The value of this material can be maximized only if the material that precedes it has been carefully absorbed and digested.) Stallard and his collaborators offer a self-improvement program that the reader completes with several “collaborators”: Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau as well as “20 great leaders from various fields who fired up people by increasing connection.” These leaders do indeed comprise a diverse group. They include the Marquis de Lafayette, Ann Mulcahy, Ed Mitchell, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Howard Schultz, Frances Hesselbein, Fred Epstein, and Bill Belichick. (If at least a few of these names are unfamiliar to you, you will welcome the introductions to them in Part IV.) Over a period of 20 days (one leader per day), the reader is asked to consider what can be learned from each about firing up people by increasing connection (i.e. mutually-beneficial relationships) with others. At the conclusion of each profile, there is a follow-through section that will facilitate effective application of the given lesson(s).
My congratulations to Michael Lee Stallard, Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau for producing such a thoughtful, sensitive, and eloquent as well as practical book.
When concluding this brief commentary, however, I do feel obligated to make one final point of my own: At one time or another, to one extent or another, everyone gets “fired up” only to experience “flame out,” if not suffer severe” burns” from the experience. That is true of Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau and it is also true of every one of the 20 “great leaders” whom they discuss. What then? Long ago, Jack Dempsey said that champions “get up when they can’t.” In the business world as well as in competitive sports, that is as true of groups and even entire organizations as it is of individuals.
Note: Since this book was published in 2007, several other excellent books have addressed several of the same issues and I highly recommend three of them, also.
The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win
Dave and Wendy Ulrich
Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live
Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy
The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
Based on rigorous and extensive research on happiness in the workplace, Jessica Pryce-Jones and her associates at iOpener (an Oxford-based consultancy) identified what she characterizes as “Ten Top tips for work goals.” She discusses each of them in her book Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success, recently published by Wiley-Blackwell.
Here they are, supplemented by a few brief comments by me.
1. Make sure your goals are realistic and appropriate for you.
Comment: This presupposes you know who you are what you really want.
2. Ensure you have the right personal resources.
Comment: Fitness should be high on the list but seldom is.
3. Develop appropriate strategies for accessing other resources you also need.
Comment: For example, identify those who can provide the best (i.e. both knowledgeable and candid) advice, who have the best network of contacts, and who are both willing and able to be your “evangelists.”
4. Make your goals concrete rather than abstract.
Comment: Focus on specifically what you will do and set deadlines, rather on what you will think about, discuss with others, etc.
5. Eliminate distractions.
Comment: Distractions are most attractive when we must complete a difficult and/or unpleasant task. Much of what peak performers do involves what others would rather not do.
6. Make a consistent effort.
Comment: Be a Bunsen burner, not a sparkler.
7. Find the right environment in which to achieve your goals.
Comment: To paraphrase Teresa Amabile, know what you really enjoy doing and then locate where, with whom, and under what conditions you can do it.
8. Make certain that you do not have conflicting goals.
Comment: I highly recommend that career goals be thoroughly discussed with members of the immediate family so that (a) they understand what the goals are and (b) they are thus better prepared to support efforts to achieve them.
9. Keep in mind that time, energy, and effort must be invested to achieve the meaningful happiness you seek.
Comment: Also keep in mind advice from Tony Schwartz that effective management of energy is most important. Sufficient sleep, relaxation, and exercise are needed to renew it.
10. The journey toward each goal is often more important than achieving it.
Comment: I agree that the process is best viewed as a “journey” and for many “pilgrims,” its greatest value is derived from what they learn about themselves en route.
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I highly recommend Pryce-Jones’s book as well as Arlene Johnson’s Success Mapping: Achieve What You Want…Right Now!, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, and The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win, co-authored by Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich.
Some of the most interesting material in this book includes Srikumar S. Rao’s advice re “No Matter What.” Using the extended metaphor of a journey, he offers practical advice about how to cope with inclement weather, barriers, delays, unforeseen threats, etc. His insights are best revealed within the narrative, in context and in sequence. After Rao provides a “map” to his reader and shows his reader the “road,” only the reader can make the “journey.”
In this context, I am reminded of Henry Ford’s observation, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Having read and then re-read Rao’s book, I now presume to paraphrase that observation: “Whether you think you can be happy at work or can’t, you’re probably right.” Make no mistake about it: What Rao asks his reader to do is very difficult (but not impossible) and very complicated (but not incomprehensible). “So, go forward with the thought that this is not a book to be read; it is to be experienced. Engage with it, wrestle with it, turn it upside down and peer into its crevices. If you expend significant emotional energy in this grappling, it will pay for itself tenfold or more in terms of the benefit you derive.”
At the end of each of the 35 brief chapters, Rao inserts a synthesis of his key points in the material just provided. I strongly recommend that most (preferably all) of these be reviewed occasionally, not because any of them are head-snapping revelations (nor does Rao make any such claim) but because they serve as helpful reminders that re-enforce each other.
Readers will appreciate the casual, conversational tone that Rao immediately establishes and then sustains. He makes brilliant use of direct address. He also has a playful (but not disingenuous) manner. He is especially innovative when addressing important issues. For example:
“Imagine that you are the great Director in the Sky, the orchestrator of all events in the movie of your life. You are a meticulous worker; every detail in your character’s life has been planned. But now you’re the character. Observe your life as someone else who is intimately familiar with every aspect of your situation – your thoughts, your feelings, your hopes and aspirations – might view it. See the drama and pathos as if you were the audience of a staged play.
“This is not easy to do, and you probably won’t succeed in your first attempt. Keep trying until you succeed. You will if you keep trying.” (Chapter 18, Page 116)
Note the proposed strategy of detachment that will permit a more detached, objective perspective. Note also Rao’s use of a dramatic setting that leverages pathos to illuminate as well as energize the given circumstances. Most of the worst decisions that people make are the result of excessive emotion or inflexible logic. “No matter what,” Rao suggests, it is imperative to be resilient and motivated to achieve success (however defined) and, meanwhile, “Be happy now. Know that whatever is aggravating you is trivial. Let it go.” Do not seek joy in your job, at home, or anywhere else. Release it from your heart and share it generously with everyone you encounter as your “journey” continues.
Those who share my regard for this book are urged to check out these books:
Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
Jessica Pryce-Jones’s Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success
Tom Rath and Jim Harter’s Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements
Tony Schwartz’s The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four F9rgoten Needs That Energize Great Performance
Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich’s The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win
Cheryl offers: I’m reading a new book right now titled The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations” by David Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich. This is a great book on a topic that, until now, has not been as clearly described or explained. That topic is why we all work. It’s not about money, although that’s always important. It’s really about meaning. We invest our time and our lives and want something back. Having a sense of purpose, a sense of value about our contributions is important no matter what the line of work. I was reading along in perfect harmony with the authors until I reached page 142 where I read “Help me understand. These words put the leader in a coaching stance.” I stopped reading for a moment. Perhaps for some these words invite dialogue. However, in my experience, more often than not I’ve heard students, employees, and leaders say they come across as condescending and patronizing in the most insincere ways. This does not put a leader in a coaching stance. When leaders are viewed as anything less than authentic, sincere, and trustworthy, they cannot be defined as a coach by my definition or as defined by the International Coach Federation. According to the ICF, coaching is a partnership which requires trust and equality between participants. “Help me understand” can easily be interpreted as a one up and one down relationship; that’s not real coaching. For anyone looking to expand their leadership capabilities and be a more coach-like leader, trade those 3 words for “Tell me more”. It’s definitely a trade up and this book is still a great book!
They will discuss their recently published book, The Why of Work.
There will be no charge,
Please visit https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/695685256.
Friday, June 25th
10 – 11 AM (MST)
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP, 2003 Server or 2000
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer
You are welcome to extend this invitation to as many other people as you wish.
Dave and Wendy Ulrich organize the material in this book within a framework of seven questions. As you review the list, I suggest that you begin to formulate your answers. Better yet, write them down.
1. What am I known for?
2. Where am I going?
3. Whom do I travel with?
4. How do I build a positive work environment?
5. What challenges interest me?
6. How do I respond to disposability and change?
7. What delights me?
The Ulrichs devote a separate chapter to each of these seven questions, focusing on real-world situations in which various people address the given issues each query raises. They characterize human beings as “meaning-making machines” who seek and often find inherent value in making sense of life. Such meaning also has market value because “meaningful work solves real problems, contributes real benefits, and thus adds real value to customers and investors.”
In this context, the Ulrichs introduce their concept of the “abundant organization” and identify its dominant characteristics: “a work setting in which individuals coordinate their aspirations and actions to create meaning for themselves, value for stakeholders, and hope for humanity at large”; an organization that “has enough and to spare of the things that matter most”: creativity, hope, resilience, determination, resourcefulness, and leadership; a profitable enterprise that concentrates on opportunities, potentialities, synergies, and fulfillment of a diversity of human needs and experiences; and especially when times are tough, a social as well as economic forces that can “bring order, integrity, and purpose out of chaos and disintegration.”
An abundant organization gives meaning to everyone involved by offering a spiritual as well as physical environment within which to thrive as human beings; their contributions, in turn, create a decisive competitive advantage for the organization while increasing and enhancing its market as well as its social value.
To become and then remain “abundant,” an organization must help its people to leverage their strengths and serve their core values, meanwhile doing so with their career objectives in proper alignment with their organization’s strategic objectives. That is the “Why” of their relationship. In this brilliant book, Dave and Wendy Ulrich also provide leaders with the “How,” the information and counsel they need, to create an abundance of purpose and meaning both for themselves and for everyone else involved, at all levels and in all areas of the enterprise they share.
Here is an excerpt from article written by Dave and Wendy Ulrich for the Harvard Business Reviewblog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
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We like to ask random people in airports and elevators what they like about their job. Answers vary from “the challenge” to “the people” to “Are you kidding? I hate my job.” A few of the people giving these answers make big bucks in big companies and others sweep up after the people who make the big bucks, but neither position nor salary seem to have much to do with finding meaning in work.
Even in horrible work settings that are degrading and dangerous, some people thrive. This doesn’t mean they are happy about their circumstances, but it does suggest they manage to find meaning despite them. “Finding meaning” is probably a misnomer, however. Meaning is not a dropped coin we pick up by chance. It is more like fine pottery we craft. People have to create the meaning of their work and their lives, and that process requires skill and practice, not just luck.Those who succeed at creating meaning — either on their own or with the help of their boss — tend to work harder, more creatively, and with more tenacity, giving the companies that employ them a leg up in the marketplace. What’s more, study after study suggests that when employees experience meaning, their employers enjoy higher rates of customer commitment and investor interest. Considering how much meaning can contribute to building a sustainable and competitive organization, it’s important for leaders to understand what makes an employee experience meaningful and what role they can play in this process.
Even in unfavorable circumstances, people can experience an activity as meaningful when it resonates with chosen values, connects them with people they like, raises their sense of competence, or gives them an “ah-ha” moment of insight. From what we know about how the human brain works, the ability to create meaning is also enhanced by challenge (solving a problem that is not too hard or too easy), emotional safety (fostered by friendship, fairness, and self-esteem), autonomy (structure but not micromanagement), and, perhaps most importantly, learning from experienced meaning-makers. In other words, we learn to create meaning like we learn most things — from watching and listening to others who do it well.
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The Ulrichs discuss what leadership is needed and then suggest specific steps by which to get beyond engagement to creating meaning at work. They conclude:
“To paraphrase Nietzsche, ‘He who has a why to work can bear with almost any “how.’ To get the most from their employees, leaders should do all they can to make this ‘why’ clear.”
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave Ulrich is a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and partner at the RBL Group. Wendy Ulrich is a practicing psychologist and founder of the Sixteen Stones Center for Growth, located in Alpine, Utah. Their book The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations that Win was published by McGraw-Hill in June (2010).