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von Robert Wreschniok

A short story of Meaning@Work. Start the slide show.

01/28 Plato described man as „a being in search of meaning“. And cognitive science has confirmed: our brain is always seeking for a consistent meaning in what we perceive. Let us start our discovery for Meaning@Work.
02/28 The meaning of work is very much influenced by the Zeitgeist, the over-arching spirit of a given time. During centuries, the social origin determined the work of an individual. Families practiced one kind of work: carpenters, farmers, merchants. “Ora et labora” as a priest was a special honour.
03/28 It is relatively new that people have the freedom to choose their education and their job. For many people, this is overwhelming. There are supposedly so many opportunities. Even though private life has also gained importance, our work and profession are still central parts of our identity.
04/28 When we start professional work, we already bring with us a mind-set that has been shaped by many formative experiences. The rules and behaviours we faced when we were young significantly shape our beliefs and intents and our perception of what is meaningful or not.
05/28 What makes the search for meaning at work difficult on an individual level are unconscious principles and rules that guide our feelings and thoughts. They have become an integral part of our identity and mechanically determine our behaviour. We are so sure about certain beliefs that we do not question them at all.
06/28 As children we are influenced by the values and attitudes of our parents day by day. They might project their unfulfilled dreams onto the kids. This often leads to doubts and inner conflicts. And sometimes we just have a feeling or desire we can not explain, because we are not yet aware what it really means.
07/28 Judgements about us may become part of our self-perception. School grades make us believe what we are good at and what we are losers at. This often limits what we think we can achieve in our professional life. And it step by step reduces the meaning we expect from work.
08/28 If we are expected to choose a solid job that offers a good salary and “safe” working conditions – this may be a point in life at which rationality and concerns beat the desire to do something more meaningful.
09/28 There are three main motives that make us go to work: 1) earning money to afford other things that are meaningful to us, 2) achieving significance by having a career 3) a calling – a professional task that is meaningful to us in itself. The good thing is: it does not need to be an „either... or“ decision.
10 /28 A workplace can offer different sources of meaning. And everybody has the freedom to choose. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery stated: the meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.
11/28 In a meta-study Brent D. Rosso* et al found out four major sources of meaning at work. The first one is identification: to what extent do people understand and appreciate their contribution to the corporate vision and strategy in daily business? * Michigan University
12/28 The second source of meaning is empowerment. If people are committed to the purpose of their job, do they have the right skills and necessary competences to fulfil their tasks and reach their goals?
13/28 The third necessary source is collaboration. Meaning@work is achieved if people perceive a fair and positive interaction in heterogeneous, diverse groups that leverage on their combined knowledge and ideas.
14/28 The fourth source is the perception of impact – how people get feedback about the benefit and concrete outcome of what they do. The most effective driver of motivation is direct and personal feedback by the beneficiaries and end users.
15/28 Management sometimes has quite anachronistic ideas on how to motivate people to change. If a CEO states: „Forget the past, everything has to change here“ – he might in reality mean: everybody needs to change here – apart from myself!
16/28 Financial Targets, Key Performance Indicators, Service Level reports, big data – managers love to measure „facts & figures“. If there is too much attention on budget and target deviations, meaning might get out of sight.
17/28 Imagine you have been working for weeks to prepare a great analysis – and your boss is presenting it at a committee meeting you are not even invited to, receiving all the credit. Or your boss is introducing a new colleague as a rising star. Just two of many ways to discourage others.
18/28 Leadership can use digital means to avoid interaction: employees receive emails with top down orders to become more creative and engaged. In the intranet they may download org-handbooks and new structures – sometimes they are even invited online to participate in layoff schemes.
19/28 To create meaning, leadership needs to influence the attitudes within an organization. The fear of making mistakes is a major roadblock for purpose-driven innovation. Let`s learn from Nelson Mandela´s credo: I never lose. I either win or learn!
20/28 But does everybody need to find a deeper meaning in his daily professional task? Perhaps there are jobs that just need to be done – and some colleagues might be very happy just paying attention to the financial stuff.
21/28 People might think meaning is created by their working environment. But are colourful walls and a pinball machine really enough? Not everybody feels comfortable in a start-up environment. The secret is to match job profiles with personalities that fit.
22/28 Some leaders live in a so called „reality distortion field“. If they reach for the stars, but have no answers on how to solve existing challenges, their visions may be inspiring short term; but that meaning is destroyed when you are brought back to the reality of daily life.
23/28 Some individuals may misunderstand where to find meaning at work. They solely seek within themselves. The opposite might be true: dedicate yourself to a higher societal goal and become committed to the benefit of others – and find fulfilment in your job!
24/28 Nearly 9 out of 10 employees do not perceive their daily work as meaningful! More than half would prefer a more meaningful job to a higher salary. Leadership of „Meaning Inc“ knows: creating meaning is a strong pillar of organizational success!
25/28 One of many meaning making instruments leadership may use is Job Crafting. It gives employees the freedom and flexibility to enrich job descriptions and guidelines with their personal strengths and needs.
26/28 Meaning creators know their internal or external customer in person, are curious about their needs and concerns and take ownership to solve their problems. As a meaningful return, they get appreciation and honest feedback.
27/28 In a meaningful workplace, different departments and diverse types of people colla-borate to achieve common goals. They act in an agile and experimental way and are open to finding solutions they even might not have thought of. Just a dream?
28/28 John Quincy Adams stated 200 years ago: „If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.“ Meaning making is a valuable leadership skill needed to achieve all of these effects.

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