Listen to this chapter, narrated by the author.
An Essential Ingredient to Sustainable Success
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. It’s an intangible thing, but it drives us. The need to feel like we are making a difference is a primary motivator for all of us. It gets us going in the morning, drives us to search for different ways, and encourages us to seek better places to be impactful. Significance is the underlying secret sauce for innovation, excellence, and personal accomplishment that I want to give you.
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 on their coworkers, company, and customers. In talking to many mid-level managers in the organizations my firm has 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 on our markets and 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 scorecard 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…and 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, we frequently see 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 the work they do every day, and their company’s success and impact on customers, the marketplace, and the community. Your team wants to know the time they invest in seemingly endless meetings is going to matter to someone. They want to know the report that took 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, punching the 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 and innovative—to surprise you and others with the difference they can make.
The Link to Engagement
In 2017, an international Gallup poll showed that only about 32 percent of US employees report being engaged in (involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to) their work.
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 nonwork significance. If we dig deep enough, we find everyone is hooked into some significant activity and making a difference somehow! It’s what makes us go, whether in or out of the office. These encounters are often amazing, with some of the most unlikely connections. Some people you would never guess are in a jazz band, others on a sports program board of directors, others researching historical antiquities…on and on the stories come out. So, they really do care about some things!
But at work, 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 searching for a significant, rewarding, gratifying situation. 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 are usually 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 twelve thousand professionals, the message was very clear: making a difference matters to everyone. Regardless of age, gender, or industry—from finance to technology—accomplishing meaningful things, and being appreciated and respected for it, 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?
Significance—the Path to Success
Norma, Ray, and Leroy worked in a large inner-city health-care institution on the East Coast. The institution served as a teaching hospital and regional trauma center, and they were so proud to be champions of its 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 emer- gency vehicles. The community, including county residents, was 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 effect. Urgent action was required.
Marc, the new CEO, hired our firm to assist, and he and I started the journey. We ducked no issues. We 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 limited. The focus was only on getting better, working harder to be excellent, and dealing with issues faster. The attention was not on the actual patients; nor was it on the vast array of internal customers on whom the organization depended.
The mantra was about operational perfection—not about patient/customer intimacy and the significance (and personal satisfaction) of successfully achieving results for the well-be-ing and health of all community constituencies. It was as if the corporate side of this health-care 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 and 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’s opinion of “their hospital” changed. That was one of our toughest assignments but also one of the most memorable! Together, we not only brought patient care back to front and center but also improved operational effectiveness. New internal customer service standards between the pharmacy and nurse floor coordinators allowed the pharmacy to reallocate two staff members—rather than hire three new employees.
Deliver Value to Customers
Oh, another thing, if you have been thinking this is only about your employees, guess again. I have found that the C-suite is just as vulnerable to the angst of lacking 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 tangible results. How do you start?
- Get all the “data” you can. Create a new view of significant engagement for your organization.
- Start with yourself. Do you feel like your own work allows you to do something of significance—not only for your organization but also for your customers, community, and area of influence?
- Establish a dialogue with team members from across the organization—ask them what the word “significance” means to them. Ask them how they would express signif- icant work to benefit customers, impact markets, and so on. Make a strategy come alive…and live in your people’s hearts and minds.
- Look at next year’s strategic plan through a new lens—ask yourself, “Will this allow my team to feel like they are embarking on something truly meaningful? Are the strategic efforts likely to make a difference with cus- tomers, suppliers, and partners? Will they move the needle in the marketplace?” Think about ways to adjust the plan so you can answer “yes.”
We Can Help
Masters Alliance Consultancy, LLC can help bring these tips to life with your organization – we provide insights and a customized framework to help your team think and lead differently.
Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 130 successful client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries achieve greater success. We help organizations develop and implement unique, competitive 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 with a revealing confidential assessment, give J. Allen a call at 952-831-7300, or send us an email.