Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Meaning Inc.

Ruth, a colleague at Buck, loaned me a copy of Gurnek Bains’ Meaning Inc., which outlines the learning YSC have gained from their many psychology consulting projects.

The book provides more valuable insights about how organisations can create an environment that will enable their talent to thrive. It contrasts with Ricardo Semler’s perspective, described in a previous post that people expect too much out of work. Bains argues that:

“Work is quite simply too important to be put in the get through it cynically’ bin. People care about their work. They want the issues that concern them to be tackled. They want to feel good about a part of their life that takes up over 50 per cent of their waking hours. In short, they want their work to be meaningful.”

Bains explains that meaning is experienced when we are able to connect our thoughts or activities with something else in a way that creates a sense of relevance or context. It is unlikely that meaning will be created if that something else is simply financial, or even commercial:

“Employees often feel senior executives are only concerned with the share price, their options and how they might look. Even when people feel that their senior executives are motivated in an authentic sense by company goals, many increasingly ask the question of whether driving brand X at the expense of a competitor’s brand Y is really what their life should be about.”

The main seven ways that meaning can be created are:

  • An invigorating purpose

  • Belonging

  • Rewards and work-life balance

  • Self-actualisation

  • Connecting with organisational DNA, values, history

  • Living a positive brand

  • Clarity of impact.

To provide employees with meaning, companies also have to have:

  • Courage to set extremely stretching goals

  • An innovative approach to benefits and the treatment of people which makes them feel special

  • A culture that allows people to be themselves and to feel they are personally making a difference and utilising their distinct talents.

It is also important that companies create meaning in authentic and non-formulaic ways:

“Skin deep and, at times, contradictory and half-hearted efforts to create meaning are, as we will show later, all too common in the corporate world. They risk raising the appetite for something which business may not be able to deliver.”

I think there are some great points in this book that should help organisations find ways to provide their people with more meaning, and which should then lead onto increased engagement, discretionary behaviour and organisational success.