I was struck by an interview with Lucy* a few days ago as she described her work (paying her dues to society) as part of the ground crew setting up for WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance – 17-19 March 2017) https://www.womad.co.nz/
The interviewer said Lucy (who is working off a 100-hour community service sentence) described the WOMAD job as one of the best things she had ever done – full stop.
“You feel like a volunteer just like the other workers. It’s really good……..heaps better than being a criminal. It’s all good, especially because they appreciate it. It makes you feel like you’re doing something, definitely.”
Another offender, Bruce*, said it beats the usual community work. “WOMAD’s fantastic. Yup, it’s a good place to work and you’re doing something so people can enjoy themselves at the weekend. It’s certainly a lot more rewarding than, say, cutting gorse that’s going to grow back anyway.”
There is a lot in common between us and them. Human beings have a bone-deep need to do something of value. Helping others emits ‘good feeling’ neurotransmitters. Having this sense of purpose and value – this ‘feel good’ – takes Lucy to a different place, where the sky really is the limit. Bruce and Lucy are optimistic that this experience will lead to permanent work when the time comes.
For people like Lucy and Bruce things have not exactly been easy, presumably for a variety of reasons. When they do work that has meaning, or simply when there are people who appreciate what they do, they respond with feelings that trigger intrinsic motivators. They feel valued, appreciated and worthwhile. People who feel valued by society tend to do things that are valued by society.
We know from research that workplaces that are positive and optimistic make up to 25% more brain power available. Most organisations would concede that they need all the available brainpower on the payroll to successfully resolve daily work challenges (never mind the increasingly complex challenges of tomorrow).
Managers often complain that people lack initiative and ‘common sense’ but maybe it is simply that they aren’t experiencing a meaningful calling.
For people on the wrong side of the law, work can help them feel ordinary and regular. For people in regular employment, leadership is the intervention that makes the ordinary compelling.
Leaders ensure that people understand the impact of their work, make the links between disconnected parts of the operation, tell stories that keep the ‘romance’ alive and create an environment where people can express their creativity and ingenuity in addressing everyday challenges. This environment is truly the dojo (training hall) for the human mind.
How are you doing as a leader? Use this checklist (inspired by Lucy’s work experience) as a self check. To what extent do you………?
- Communicate work’s purpose – whom do they impact in what way for what effect?
- Create an aspirational pull to be the best possible – so people are proud to sign their name to every task
- Remain accessible and approachable – people want to be important enough to earn quality time with the leader
- Listen – people want to be heard before they fully invest
- Challenge people to find ways to get better so they are constantly stimulated and evolving
- Involve people in co-creating success
- Engage people in issues to be resolved – complex and dynamic challenges that test their ingenuity, giving them that essential boost of validation when they develop and implement their solutions
This list of what is important to people at work is remarkably consistent across a variety of cultures and sectors – after all, business and work have one thing in common: people. And people are not that different.
With the right leadership and work environment, the sky truly is the limit.
*Lucy and Bruce are names used in the article to protect their real identity.