Leading out of Recession
Turnaround Leadership

The Meaning of Work

“Implementation is straightforward if you understand the fundamentals, but only if you can engage so that modern workers are able to answer the question. ‘What’s in it for me?’” Mark Wilcox (with Jonas Ridderstrale: People Management: 6 March 2008)   

The rider that followed shortly after, however, was what really caught my attention: “Enticing people with money is going about it the wrong way.”  Not because of the words, but the relief that such ideas are being expressed more.

Jonas Ridderstrale reinforces this by adding, “Most traditional management presumes you can move from envisioning straight to execution, forgetting engagement. It equates great leaders with those who have Eureka moments. But to deliver real change you have to be able to tap into people’s emotional capital too.”  Traditional management could only make that presumption because it was rooted in the conviction that you had simply to tell subordinates what to do.

It would thus seem that ‘emotional capital’ and ‘what’s in it for me’ are synonymous and cannot be met by either command or enticement. The challenge then is to find a new operating model. Ridderstrale believes highly successful corporations have this and that “It’s a change from having a relationship with employees that’s purely transactional to having one that’s at least partially emotional.” This, these gurus claim, “starts with using positive deviance, rather than trying to exterminate the negative.”

Oh boy! Apart from the mind-numbing generality of this, it also sounds pretty much like the Dr. Spock school of discipline and the sort of thinking that led to the meltdown in the financial markets: a sense somewhat reinforced by the next question, which asks about their suggestion that companies follow the model of religion or the American dream in reinventing themselves.

Hardly propitious analogies right now, they begin to make sense when one understands the key issue here is that “both talent and consumers will search for organisations that can provide them with meaning.” Companies (Virgin and Nike are cited as examples) able to offer this will stand a greater chance of success. Unfortunately the only practical insight to achieving this is that “organisations need to rely on a number of shared principles that keep people together.”     

Of course this is precisely where the Zealise solution starts. Rooted in Kahlil Gibran’s statement, “Work is love made visible”, it has the philosophical basis with the practical interpretation to deliver the remedy being discussed; engaged employees who have both the emotional capital and the social capital to be happy in their work. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to download “Lighting the Fuse” to learn how to really engage your employees. 


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