It can be hard sometimes to find meaning in our work. Filling in forms, typing code, stacking shelves, sitting through the thirteenth meeting of the same committee, these activities throw so many trees into view that we really do lose sight of the woods.
The problem is that without meaning it’s hard to stay motivated. Detached from its purpose, work is just one more task to trudge through, not something you can feel passionate about or bring your best to.
If you want to stay motivated, and to keep others motivated, you need to find meaning.
Finding your meaning
It used to be that motivation in work was externally driven, but these days we’re seeing a shift towards internal motivations. The world supports us in finding work that matters to us, and rewards those who do this as their passion leads them to thrive.
It isn’t enough to accept somebody else’s meaning, however noble it might look. Are you pursuing a career in government service because it matters to you or because it’s what you feel should be meaningful? Do you design shoes because you’re intrigued by their elegant potential and passionate about being comfortable on your feet, or did you just inherit the family shoe business? If your motivation comes from inside you then it will drive you towards greatness, so start by working out what matters to you.
Finding your work’s meaning
Perhaps you already do a job that you’re passionate about, but you’re having trouble getting others passionately engaged. In that case it’s worth looking more deeply at the meaning of your work.
One way to do this, as recommended by Eddie Yoon, is to talk with your most extreme customers. Find the ones who buy all your products, who use your service again and again, who use your products in unusual ways. Find out why they come to you and what your business means to them. The meaning will be closer to the surface for them, something of which they’re more aware, and it will help to shed light on your business and the motives of the rest of your customers.
Knowing that your work has meaning for others as well as yourself can help to re-energize you when you’re feeling down. It can also help to keep your business on course. Many organizations have faltered because they pursued a product or service that bore no relation to their core meaning and the customers who bought into it. Understanding your meaning to others will help you avoid that.
Sharing that meaning
Once you’ve found your meaning, both individually and as an organization, use it to inspire others. People are always looking for something to believe in, something to motivate them, and sharing your meaning can provide that belief.
Belief is a powerful motivator. If you act like you believe in the meaning you’ve identified, if you pursue it no matter what stands in your way, if you support your employees in pursuing that meaning, then they will believe in you and your purpose. Don’t just expect them to do as they’re told, but tell them why they’re doing what they’re doing. This doesn’t just provide motivation, it provides flexibility. If someone understands why they are following a call script then they will also be able to recognize when it’s appropriate to go off script to achieve the call’s purpose. If they understand what a process is for then they can recognize and adapt when it stops achieving that aim.
Finding your meaning will give motivation to you, to your business and to the people around you. It can unlock your energy, your creativity and your flexibility. So think about your meaning and find your motivation.
(About the Author: Mark Lukens is a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm. He has 20 plus years of C-Level experience across multiple sectors including healthcare, education, government, and people and potential (aka HR). In addition, Mark currently serves as Chairman of the Board for Behavioral Health Service North, a large behavioral health services provider in New York. He also actively serves on the faculty of the State University of New York (SUNY) and teaches in the School of Business and Economics; Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship and the Department of Management, International Business and Information Systems. Mark holds an MBA and is highly recognized in the technology and healthcare space with credentials including MCSE and Paramedic. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity. Mark resides in New York with his wife Lynn, two children, and two Labradors. The greatest pursuit; “To be more in the Service of Others.”)
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