Monday, July 04, 2011

What is it that makes work satisfying?

Obviously the main reason most of us do what we do is to earn money as, if we won the Lottery, most of us would stop doing the job we do.  But despite this somewhat facile motivation,  most of us derive a sense of satisfaction from our work.  The question therefore is what aspect of our work is it that we derive the greatest satisfaction from – is it status, providing for our families, being associated with an organisation or the camaraderie of our colleagues?  While all of these things are important, the greatest sense of satisfaction is that which we derive from being useful and having a purpose.

Most companies have visions and values, but only a few place an emphasis on the organisation’s purpose.  In this context, an organisation’s purpose alludes to its contribution to the wellbeing and maintenance of society.  Take Konosuke Matsushita, the legendary founder of Panasonic as an example.  For him, the purpose of Panasonic was not to make money for shareholders, it was to eradicate poverty through the employment of others and by manufacturing quality goods at affordable prices.

While this talk of ‘purpose’ may seem a little idealistic, it is never the less a concept that leads to better motivation, productivity and employee satisfaction.  For example, would you rather be a road sweeper or a hygiene worker?  Both sweep the street but in one case the job description implies that the role’s objective is simply to pick up the rubbish that other people carelessly drop, the other implies that the purpose of the role is to improve the environment by making it a cleaner, safer and more attractive place to be.  I know which concept motivates me the most!

But in our world of skewed economic values where a bank trader is considered to be ‘worth’ so much more than a care worker, we seem to have lost sight of our purpose in so many jobs.   For example, I recently worked as a team coach for a group of health workers. They were heavily caught up with endless organisational change, regulation, accountability issues and departmental politics. As a consequence they had lost their sense of vocation and purpose, and hence their underlying motivation was suffering.  As an outsider it was easy for me to see that what these people did professionally was incredibility important – but they were in danger of losing sight of it.   However, by spending time focusing on the meaning and purpose of their work and by finding strategies to reduce the distraction of the less important aspects of the role, their motivation and energy quickly returned.

My advice would be the same for anyone.  Rediscover the core meaning and value of your work. Keep it strongly in mind and reinforce it through whatever means you can.  Look at what in your job isn’t part of the core value, or is secondary to it and see what you can do to reduce the energy and effort you spend on those things and, by so doing, increase the attention you can pay to what is important.


I have recently been training some new Vice-Presidents in the investment banking industry. It was fascinating to listen to the issues that these young leaders face today. Given the events of the last 4 years, it is not unnatural that their biggest concern was one of the oldest leadership challenges – how to build trust.  Trust in their industry again of course but fundamentally trust in them as a leader of others.

This is one of the great leadership qualities, a point reinforced to me when I was interviewing successful leaders for my recent book. It is perhaps best expressed in this quote from one of those leaders “People have to know that they can trust you and you have to, through your relationships with them, let them know you can be trusted and you will deliver.”

Trust is the bedrock of good leadership. Just consider what can happen when it is absent or broken. Leaders with no trust can become coercive, bullying people to conform. Power on these terms is unpleasant and counterproductive in business; in world politics it can mean violence and bloodshed as we are seeing daily in other countries right now.

Across all cultures trust is a product of what you do and how you behave. Just as being fit is an outcome of a good exercise regime, so trust is an outcome of a good leadership regime. Stick to your regime, be trustworthy and you will earn the trust of others.

The industry leaders I interviewed identified three key values that need to be demonstrated to build trust: Respect, Honesty and Integrity. Respect for other peoples’ views and values, honesty coupled with transparency, integrity in your own words, behaviours and actions. Consistently behaving in this way builds respect and trust from others. It also builds self trust and self confidence. People who command high trust, such as Nelson Mandela for example, are listened to and believed. They attract followers and even their opponents respect them. 

I find when working with leaders that the quickest way for them to build trust is to focus on matching what they say with what they do. I advised my new VPs to express these three key values in their daily interactions. They went away thinking about what they could do to show the values in action and a commitment to reflect on the impact of their actions. Practice will help them to embed these values in their subconscious, enabling them to command the trust and respect of those around them. I’m really looking forward to seeing their development over the coming months.

The ability to build and sustain trust brings many benefits and should be refined throughout your leadership journey. Whatever your leadership role, perhaps you would like to consider what more you could do to live the values of respect, honesty and integrity, so you can benefit from higher trust levels.

Rosie Miller
International Executive Coach
Maximising Your Return on People