How do we motivate our teams to do the best work they can by using an intrinsic motivator? I’m going to start with what seems the hardest, but really is just a matter of communication — Meaningfulness (wow, what a fluffy word!). A person who believes that their work is meaningful is much more likely to have a passion for their job than a person who believes their job is a meaningless drudgery. Why is it that two individuals could be doing the exact same job and one finds it meaningful while the other finds it a grind? Or the same person could feel differently at two different points in time?
Meaningfulness is really all about whether a person perceives their work as being valuable. Have you effectively communicated that the job is important? And by important, I don’t mean important to YOU or because it makes money. “Important” means that it clearly and critically supports the larger vision of the organization (you do have a vision, right?). There is a famous story about JFK touring the NASA headquarters. He introduced himself to a janitor and asked the janitor, “What do you do here?” to which the janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” The janitor clearly understood the bigger picture. He understood that they can’t put a man on the moon unless EVERYONE who works for NASA does their part. His part, while humble, was important.
Let’s agree that simply making money is not “meaningful”. Drug dealers and human traffickers make money. Meaningful means it makes the world a better place, even if only in a very small way. Yes, that sounds grandiose, but it’s true. Barring criminals, tyrants, and other psychopathic types, who on earth wants to be a part of a job that does NOT in some way, shape or form make the world (or at least a portion of it) a better place?
I work with many companies in the insurance industry, an industry purposely built to protect the assets of its clients and help them to recover from catastrophes. If ever there was an industry that could rightfully claim it has a higher purpose, it’s the insurance industry. Yet overwhelmingly sales reps are told to focus upon policies sold, premiums collected, and commissions earned. There’s nothing wrong with using these metrics to evaluate performance, but they won’t ever convince a sales rep that they do meaningful work.
Instead of solely focusing on commissions, what if employees understood that they are protecting their customers’ hard-earned assets, protecting their families’ livelihood in the event of disaster, and settling claims that will ease the burden for their customers? In that context, what resonates as more meaningful work – how much premium was collected or how many lives were protected?
The example I provided is insurance-specific, but most work is meaningful in some way. The barista who serves the perfect coffee to his customers with a smile, may just be the best part of someone’s day. The real estate agent who help her customer navigate the world of Purchase-Sale Agreements and inspections is helping someone make a home. The software company’s customer service rep that answers a technical question for a business owner who is trying to run his employees’ payroll is empowering that business owner to be successful.
The key to finding meaning in one’s work is communication. Communicating the “why” behind the company’s mission and then showing an individual, regardless of their position, how their job is critical in supporting that “why” will go a long way toward providing the intrinsic reward of meaningfulness.
Seth Preus is an advisor to Mivation, and the creator of both Racing Snail and Leaderboard Legends. As a thought leader, he uses his 25 years of experience in sales, software development and business ownership to change the equation from “How can I get my team to perform?” to “How can I get my team to WANT to perform.”