Everyone has so much more to their story than we can know.
In work, I often feel pressure to offer others an insight or something else that may be valuable within just one conversation. That means giving something without attachment to whether or not it’s received as I intend. I recognize the limitations of that because I can’t fully know their context. I can only try to get a glimpse in that one moment.
The pressure I feel is self-imposed. It’s based on my personal interest to try to alleviate the pain, self-doubt and confusion people feel when working together. I try to give others new words, a new concept, a new frame that comes from my belief that people are generally good at their core. I believe people want to do work that’s meaningful in some way, however small.
This personal interest began from a childhood decision. At a very early age I remember very clearly that I made a conscious decision to work, to have a career, so I could be independent. I had a fierce independent streak that was not particularly welcomed in the oldest, female child in a blue collar rural Connecticut family and community. Yes, I was expected to work hard but know my place. Like others, I got those messages all the time.
I could see as a female the culture’s preferred choice for me was to get married, have a family, take care of the home and contribute to the finances by working, maybe as a receptionist somewhere or maybe a bank teller or doing the books for a family friend’s business. It might have been a great life. I might have signed up for it too had it not been for the harsh reality I was facing because of the suffocating dependence I witnessed in the women that were part of it. It’s subtle, unseen and real. I was lucky, I was born at a time when I could break out. For many reasons, the women in my family before me did not have that choice.
So it’s with that grounding experience and constant reminder I decided that I was going to work my whole life to secure my independence. I had a huge desire to learn things and think things and imagine things with others. This set me on a path to imagine what work could be like. I thought, if I’m going to work for the majority of my life what do I want it to be like? What would I choose it to be? How would I choose it to feel and be about?
I’ve always worked hard. I’ve always been determined. When I say to others, “first imagine what it could be like then make it happen,” that’s because that strategy has worked for me over and over again. My life as a child looks completely different from my life now and that’s largely because I imagined it and then made it happen while filtering the messages I received from my environment. Over the years, I had a lot of self-doubt and often wondered if there was any point to my persistence. I did not spend much time thinking about fairness or disadvantages because that would have spiraled me down and out. I had to constantly remind myself to stay in my belief that life could be better. The battle with myself to stay on course seemed much more productive than a battle with others. There are definitely lower points to my life but in work it constantly improved.
What’s on my LinkedIn profile is a curated recent history. It’s the result of learning over and over again what the world of work values “on paper”. What’s not on my resume is my first official job working summers in the tobacco fields of Connecticut so I could afford to get my hair cut and buy clothes for school. What’s not on there is my next job which was scooping ice cream at Friendly’s. I remember what a luxury that job felt like because there was actually air conditioning and relief from the harsh physical toll of farm work. Right there, work improved for me. This is just the beginning. I worked for the Sheraton as a waitress and then became a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines just before they went bankrupt (what a crazy experience that was!). Those two jobs I held at the same time which helped me fund classes at a community college an hour away. I worked all the time and I was tired but I mostly loved it.
There are so many other improvements I made to my working conditions out of sheer determination. I never took a job that would put me in danger. I never took a job that would compromise my personal integrity. At 16 years old, I walked out of a retail store after filling out a job application in their stock room when I became insulted by its line of questioning. It was assuming the wrong thing about people, like they couldn’t be trusted. It made me imagine what it would be like to work there, how I might be treated. At 28, in a job interview for a prominent corporation I was being questioned about whether or not I lied about never taking drugs. The line of questioning went something like, “Everyone has done drugs of some kind. Are you sure you don’t want to change your answer?” It was manipulative and insulting. They did not know me. They did not know my background. I was not interested in a company that valued this interview technique (which it turns out they were notorious for) no matter what that opportunity meant for my career. Both the retail store and corporation pursued me afterwards and I turned them both down. I always believed I had choices even if no one else did.
As a young girl with limited education and a shaky family foundation, I was an easy, vulnerable target. I knew that. I knew what it meant to be taken advantage of so it was through this lens that I constantly assessed the risks to my mental and physical well-being. People do this all the time.
There is so much more to my story, but that’s true for everyone. Everyone has so much more to their story than we can know. People are amazing, when you think about it. All of this is the source of my drive to improve daily life at work. For all the disadvantages, I know I’ve had many privileges too. I’m truly grateful for all of it. The unique contribution I can make is based on experiencing the good and the bad, and knowing what’s possible.
This is what I carry with me every day and connects me to my purpose. This is my context.
Give employees a meaningful mission statement to help focus their work, making the mission more likely to be fulfilled.
Written by Ed Cook.
Is there anything that brings on the overwhelming urge to yawn more than a corporate mission or vision statement? This is supposed to be the company’s description of what it means to work there. It is the expression of purpose. But, (yawn)...it is often an example of mediocrity and stale wordplay. What makes me incredibly sad is that people crave purpose. Everyone, customers, employees, the lunch lady, everyone. And it is not all about money, as in cost for customers and pay for employees. It is deeper. Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, illustrates the impact of intrinsic factors like autonomy, mastery, and purpose as much more powerful drivers than money.
If everyone desires an expression of purpose, then companies would start to describe that purpose in a statement that has meaning, real meaning. But how?
One way NOT to do this is with Corporate Mad-Libs. I love this phrase! This is the corporate jargon version of the Mad Libs” books born in 1958 where you inserted adverbs and nouns and other parts of speech to create funny stories. Every corporate citizen knows about these (lack of?) purpose statements:
These are meaningless. Worse, they pretend to have meaning when clearly they do not. They are corporate blather, insipid rhetoric, dunderhead inspiration. I could go on with the Mad-Libs but you get the point. One way to tell if your purpose statement is useless is to state it as the opposite. If it’s foolish, then your statement was not all that valuable. For example:
We will maximize shareholder value. >> We will minimize shareholder value.
Of course, the opposite is idiocy, so why say your purpose is to maximize shareholder value. It doesn’t provide any direction for decision-making. It doesn’t inspire. It doesn’t do anything of value. These statements meet the test:
To get more specific, these are vision statements. They describe the bold future of the organization. The mission statement has the particulars of how a company does this and for whom. The two statements are linked because the vision statement should inform the mission statement. I like the three vision statements above because they do not get bogged down in the industry specifically. They are bold statements of something well beyond themselves. The mission statements, however, do speak to the industry and the specific customers. They provide more of the guideposts to make decisions.
I’ve previously written about the “Leadership Bubble” as a way to help employees grow and learn. The mission statement should be a tool that helps the leader determine how tight or loose the bubble should be because it provides the markers of success. By bringing their employees minds back to the mission statement, leaders can help focus the work that they do making them more successful as individuals and the mission more likely to be fulfilled. The vision statement should be the thing that gets people interested in coming to work. A vision statement can even be for a project. In Roxanne’s post: “How To Lead A Change You Dislike And Win For Your People,” she guides a leader through the process of dealing with their own feelings about a change. What if they were inspired by the change instead of turned off? The leader’s energy would flow through to the team. A well-crafted vision statement can do that.
Creating purpose and meaning in your current job.
Written by Roxanne Brown.
Imagine this: You love your work. You love being absorbed by it. You feel your life’s purpose reflected in the work you do and you can see the impact it’s having. Your family and friends are proud of you and the work you do. They can see why it’s important, why it drives you. Even on those most hair-raising days leaving you completely rung out you still feel deep satisfaction because you know your energy and time is worth the effort.
Nirvana, right? Maybe this is you today. Or, maybe this was you at some point in the past or something you wish for. The question is, how can you cultivate meaningful work?
Turns out even if you don’t have a deep, meaningful connection to your work today, there are still ways to bring meaning into your world of work without leaving your current position.
Like what? Well, you could…
Of course, this assumes you’re in touch with what makes work meaningful to you. If you’d like to explore that a bit….
How can you create meaningful work for your people?
I was surprised by a recent conversation I had with an administrative assistant at a non-profit organization. As part of a meeting series with each member of their 20-person staff, I noticed every person I met with was enthusiastic and highly engaged in where the organization was headed. By the time I met with the administrative assistant (which was after several meetings), I was struck by the difference in energy level and how little he had to share in contrast to the rest of the team. After a while he revealed that he did not feel his work was particularly meaningful (I’m paraphrasing). Exploring this, he said he understood the importance of his role to the organization and he enjoyed working with everyone on the staff. That wasn’t the problem. It seemed to him, though, that all the members of the staff were doing work they were really passionate about. By comparison, his work seemed far less significant. He spoke as if he were resigned to this, as if that’s all he could reasonably expect in a role like his compared with the role others played. He actually seemed demoralized! Clearly, I was not expecting this.
With his permission, I shared my notes with the leaders of the organization. I just knew the leaders would love to find a way to involve him in projects he would find meaningful. They just didn’t know how much it mattered to him! And, that’s exactly what they did.
So, what can you do for your people?
And, to prepare for those conversations, here are a couple things to do in advance and have with you:
Imagine how inspiring this would be for your team to hear you say! People want to feel like they’re part of something important, like they’re making a contribution that’s real. They also want to work for an authentic leader so be careful not to manufacture meaning where it doesn’t really exist. You’ll know in your gut if you’re forcing it.
Doing this for your people may help you discover more about what makes work meaningful for you and what areas to expand. With just a little focus, you can make purpose and meaning become more and more integrated into the culture of your team.