Make It a Cause for Commitment

Make It a Cause for Commitment

When you listen deeply, as Jacqueline did, you can find out what gives work its meaning to others. People stay with an organization, research finds, because they like the work they are doing and find it challeng- ing, meaningful, and purposeful.17 When you listen with sensitivity to the aspirations of others, you discover that there are some common values that link everyone together.18 People want a chance to

Be tested, to make it on their own Take part in a social experiment Do something well Do something good Change the way things are

Aren’t these the essence of what most leadership challenges are all about? Indeed, what people want has not changed very dramatically through the years.19

These findings suggest that there’s more to work than making money.20 People have a deep desire to make a difference. They want to know that they have done something on this earth, that there’s a purpose to their existence. Work has become a place where people pursue meaning and identity.21 The best organizational leaders address this human longing by communicating the significance of the organization’s work so that people understand their own impor- tant role in creating and performing that work. When leaders clearly communicate a shared vision of an organization, they ennoble those who work on its behalf. They elevate the human spirit.

Although this idea may be easy enough to comprehend, Sonja Shevelyov, human resources manager at Ooyala, a leader in online video management, told us,

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It can be difficult to implement. There is immense value in creating meaning to the work that is being asked of people. I’ve learned how important it is to take time to listen closely and connect with what is meaningful to others. In an environment with rapidly changing priorities, I find I am constantly in a reactive state. Creating time and driving any projects to completion in a proactive way is a struggle.

It can be difficult to anticipate the future, because it requires you to be proactive and be disciplined around establishing what those shared values are and not just assuming them. The payoff is huge because I can connect to the feeling that what I’m doing is bigger than myself, even noble.

People commit to causes, not to plans. How else do you explain why people volunteer to rebuild communities ravaged by a tsunami, ride a bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money to fight AIDS, or rescue people from the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake? How else do you explain why people toil 24/7 to create the next big thing when the probability of failure is very high? People are not committing to the plan in any of these cases. There may not even be a plan to commit to. They are committing to something much bigger, something much more compelling than goals and milestones on a piece of paper. That’s not to say that plans aren’t important to executing on grand dreams. They abso- lutely are. It’s just to say that the plan isn’t the thing that people are committing to.

The most successful strategies are visions.22 McGill University professor Henry Mintzberg has observed, “Calculated strategies have no value in and of themselves. . . . Strategies take on value only as committed people infuse them with energy.”23 When people are part

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G E of something that elevates them to higher levels of motivation and

morality, they develop a sense that they belong to something very special. This sense of belonging is particularly important in tumultu- ous times.

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