Significance: The Secret Sauce
by J Allen | Originally Published Jan 10, 2017
I want to give you, courageous leader, a gift! It’s one that you can pass on to your team, your employees, and comes at virtually no cost to you. It’s a “new” way of thinking about work – how you feel about it, how you approach it, and how you make decisions on behalf of your customers.
Here’s the gift – Significance
It’s an intangible thing, but it drives us. The need to feel like we are making a difference is a primary motivator for us all. It gets us going in the morning, drives us to search for a different way, and seek a better place to be impactful. Significance is the underlying “secret sauce” for innovation, excellence and personal accomplishment.
How does this relate to your business? As a leader, you know your job is to help your team succeed, which drives success for your overall organization. But if you look beyond that – you also have a part to play in helping team members have a meaningful impact for their coworkers, the company and your customers. In talking to many mid-level managers in the organizations we’ve worked with – there’s a common thread: “All I need is for you to give me an opportunity to do good work and make a difference…actually have an impact in our markets and with our customers.” It’s as simple as that. We refer to this as “something cookin’”…getting in on the action. Making a meaningful difference is the real deal. Here’s a surprise! Transformation with customers is closely connected to personal and team significance!
Significance is About Being, Not About Achieving
Let’s be clear – significance cannot and should not be defined as improving stock price or minimizing losses. It can’t be about an efficiency metric or even a customer service survey score. It’s nothing that can be captured on a performance score card or report. It’s more fundamental, more human than that. It’s how we treat each other, how we value each other’s work and how we unleash the potential within each other. It’s about the excitement of “going after” something…the pure fun of accomplishment through meaningful work.
It’s not about a desire for reward and recognition. Without discovering on our own that we are significant and seen as significant by others, most importantly external and internal customers, we frequently see the “recognition” as window dressing or worse, lipstick on a pig! In fact, we have ample evidence that allows us to make the bold statement that “people will work harder for the customer than for the boss!”
It’s Not a Selfish Thing
Significance is not just a personal thing, or a millennial thing. I’m talking about employees who want to see a direct connection between work they do every day and the company’s success and impact on customers, the marketplace and the community. Your team wants to know that time they invest in seemingly endless meetings is going to matter to someone. They want to know the report that they worked on in overtime to produce is really going to be used by someone; or the project presentation they are creating isn’t going to get shelved after it’s been sent out. They don’t just want to show up and work, or punch a time clock; they signed up to be part of your organization and will only be truly invested if their talents are being used and their efforts matter. They want to be creative, innovative and surprise you and others with the difference they can make.
The Link to Engagement
Once again, a recent international Gallup poll shows that only about 32% of US employees report being engaged in their work [involved in, enthusiastic about and committed].
You may be thinking: “I know many who don’t seem to care…why should I think significance would matter to them?” Another Surprise! When we talk with clients from execs to hourly workers, we discover their passions, their non-work related significance. If we dig deep enough, we find everyone is hooked into some significant activity, making a difference somehow! It’s what makes us go – in, or out of the office. These encounters are often amazing, with some of the most unlikely connections. Some you would never guess are in a jazz band, others on a sports program board of directors, others researching historical antiquities…and on and on, the stories come out.
More than ever, we hear so many say that what they do, contribute and accomplish doesn’t make a difference. They feel like they have more to offer the world and eventually start a search for significant, rewarding, gratifying work. You’ve probably heard echoes of this in your “voice of employee” survey results, or in exit interviews as good employees leave because they don’t feel the connection. Remember: the best usually are the first to go elsewhere…because they can.
You may have dismissed this as lack of engagement or commitment as employees “uninformed about the real world” or chalked it up to an entitled workforce. But the problem is real and it has real costs. In a 2016 Robert Half research effort of over 12,000 professionals, the message was very clear: making a difference matters…in all groupings. Women and men. Ages 18-34, 35-54 and 55+. In all functions from finance to technology. Accomplishing meaningful things, being appreciated and respected for accomplishing [being significant] is a big deal. So…Do you want to enable that drive and desire at work…or do you just want to complain about its absence?
A Real-World Example
Norma, Ray and Leroy – in a large east coast inner city healthcare institution…were so proud to be of service and be part of the champions of the institutional story. But early on, no one was listening. Norma was the third-shift cleaning supervisor. Ray was the nurse liaison with the pharmacy. Leroy was the head of emergency vehicles in this regional trauma center teaching hospital. The community, including the county residents, were greatly dissatisfied, even angry about the hospital service levels. The institutional reputation was poor. The image was unacceptable. Various improvement efforts had been attempted in the past with little affect. Urgent action was required.
Marc, the new CEO and I started the journey. We ducked no issues, and recognized the antagonists and their right to take issue with the “way things were.” We visited all areas and constituents, we listened, we empathized and we remembered. Most importantly, we noticed several root causes of the frustration and malaise. Mainly, the current focus was wrong. The focus was on getting better, working harder to be excellent, dealing with issues faster. The attention was not on patients or the vast array of internal customers the organization depended on to do what was right and what was effective. The mantra was about “operational perfection” …not about patient / customer intimacy and the SIGNIFICANCE [and personal satisfaction] of successfully achieving results for the well-being and health of all community constituencies. It was as if the corporate side of this Healthcare organization forgot the word “CARE” was in their company name.
Back to Norma, Ray and Leroy…the champions of the story. They volunteered to be part of the internal customer service core team and recruit others to participate. They relished the opportunity to be significant and were up to the task. They spearheaded customer impacting service standards, engaged others in collaboratively developing, refining and implementing them. The bottom line…in less than a year, significance became abundant in the organization, patients and families noticed meaningful changes and the community opinion of “their hospital” changed. That was one of the toughest assignments, but definitely one of the most memorable! Together, we brought patient care back to front and center.
Deliver Value to Customers
Oh, another thing, if you have been thinking this is only about your employees, guess again. In working with over 2200 senior executives in multiple industry and international environments, I have found that the “C-Suite” is just as vulnerable to the “angst” from too little significant, market-changing work!
If you can get on board with the fact that it is possible to deliver better value to your customers through an engaged workforce, then you know that investing in efforts to increase significance will produce a tangible result. How do you start?
- Get all the data you can about this new “metric of significant engagement” (HINT: It’s not new). External and internal data helps you understand where you rank.
- Start with your own work – do you feel like your work allows you to do something of significance? Not just in your organization – but for your customers, in the community and in your world of influence?
- Look at next year’s strategic plan with a lens of “does this allow for my team to feel like they will be embarking on something truly meaningful?” Are the strategic efforts likely to make a difference with customers, suppliers, and partners…move the needle in the marketplace? Think about ways to adjust the plan so that you can answer “yes.”
- Establish a dialogue with team members from across the organization – ask them about significance and what that word means to them. Ask them how they would express significant work to benefit customers and impact markets, etc. Make strategy come alive… and live in your peoples’ hearts and minds.
Significance in the New Year
We at Masters Alliance trust you had a most enjoyable holiday season and hope that your plans for the New Year are full of optimism, opportunity and the ability to make a difference!
Start the New Year off with a commitment to understanding the role of significance in your organization’s work. Everyone will appreciate this important, essential ingredient of sustainable success …especially your customers! Careful, you may do something transformative…you may create “something cookin’”…
We Can Help
Masters Alliance can help bring these tips to life with your organization – we provide tools and framework to help your team think and lead differently. We’ve helped dozens of our clients implement this new way of thinking in their organizations.
Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 120 client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries gain a competitive advantage in their market. We help organizations develop and implement unique business strategies that work – faster than our clients ever thought possible.
We help clients achieve significant performance gains from a breakthrough understanding of their customers / patients / clients and markets.
To privately start this revealing assessment process, give J. Allen a call at 952-831-7300, or send us an email.