Even incremental steps forward—small wins—boost what we call “inner work life”: the constant flow of emotions, motivations, and perceptions that constitute a person’s reactions to the events of the work day. Beyond affecting the well-being of employees, inner work life affects the bottom line. People are more creative, productive, committed, and collegial in their jobs when they have positive inner work lives. But it’s not just any sort of progress in work that matters. The first, and fundamental, requirement is that the work be meaningful to the people doing it.
In our book and a recent Harvard Business Review article, we argue that managers at all levels routinely—and unwittingly—undermine the meaningfulness of work for their direct subordinates through everyday words and actions. These include dismissing the importance of subordinates’ work or ideas, destroying a sense of ownership by switching people off project teams before work is finalized, shifting goals so frequently that people despair that their work will ever see the light of day, and neglecting to keep subordinates up to date on changing priorities for customers.The authors of the article cite four traps
- Mediocrity signals (inadvertently signaling the opposite through words and actions)
- Strategic ‘attention deficit disorder’ (not allowing sufficient time to discover whether initiatives are working, and communicating insufficient rationales to their employees when they make strategic shifts)
- Corporate Keystone Kops (When coordination and support are absent within an organization, people stop believing that they can produce something of high quality. This makes it extremely difficult to maintain a sense of purpose.)
- Misbegotten ‘big, hairy, audacious goals’ (goals can become grandiose, containing little relevance or meaning for people in the trenches. They can be so extreme as to seem unattainable and so vague as to seem empty. The result is a meaning vacuum. Cynicism rises and drive plummets).
The best executives we studied internalize their early experiences and use them as reference points for gauging the signals that their own behavior will send to the troops. “Try hard to remember when you were working in the trenches,” Hamilton says. “If somebody asked you to do a bunch of work on something they hadn’t thought through, how meaningful could it be for you? How committed could you be?”Interesting comments aren't they? Rhetorical question!