5 Key Take-outs Draft

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5 Take-outs: Meaning of Work International Conference

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“Meaning” is a major issue today in the context of work. We are becoming used to short-termism, relentless change, and constant financial pressures but all of these are having an impact. Creating meaning at both an individual and organisational level is a business imperative as, without it, we will not overcome the hurdles of improving engagement and productivity, or creating a high-performance culture. In most organisations, meaning and purpose need to be more properly thought through and practical solutions for increasing these need to be determined and applied.
These are my top five take-outs from the conference, which was convened by the Corporate Research Forum, a network of over 145 organisations, including 38% of the FTSE 100. I think they enable us to understand what meaning is in the context of work and, when meaning is often the most elusive element of work, how to create more of it:

1. Which elements create meaning at work?

To create meaning, an organisation must have :
  • A clear purpose and direction
  • A conducive working environment, both physically and in a community sense
  • Opportunities for collaboration and teamwork
  • A chance to learn and a sense that we can develop and move forward
  • The opportunity to make a contribution to the whole
It’s important to pause and think whether these elements are an intrinsic part of your culture, or if some of them would benefit from work and effort?

 2. The orchestra as metaphor for work

Not many conferences have a live orchestra for three hours to demonstrate a point! But by listening to, and observing the interactions of the orchestra as a group, as well as the interactions with their conductor, we were prompted to think more deeply about the dynamics of leadership and engagement. Micromanagement by the conductor destroys the flow of the performance just as, in business, individuals need to take their direction and inspiration from leaders but have the freedom to utilise their talent to add their individual contribution to the whole.
Communication and direction from the leader and the way in which they guide and nurture their “team” has the ultimate impact on the end result. As you can see in this short video, I had the opportunity to conduct the Vienna Orchestra, illustrating superbly that there are degrees of success in leadership communication. Judge for yourself what degree of success you think I attain!

3. How to create purpose in an organisation

Nigel Nicolson of London Business School pointed out that leaders are too focused on “doing”. This is true for most of us. The more we do, the more effective we perceive we are but while we are busy getting things done, we have usually lost our sense of purpose. Our goals have become the substitute for the real purpose of why we are there.  If we can strive to recapture a sense of purpose, and if the organisations we work for can help us to do this, then everyone reaps the rewards of engagement, productivity and high performing teams.
Rebecca Homkes, Faculty Member of London Business School, suggested that organisations create purpose through a “powerful intersection of:
– Strategic insight
– An innovative approach to meeting an unmet market need, and
– A unifying commitment to achieving this”
She draws attention to the fact that companies need to have the critical conversations and make the tough choices required to get to this point, and that many don’t.

4. How can meaningful workplaces and work be developed?

The type of work environment which people not only survive but thrive is one where:
  • Excellence is recognised and rewarded
  • People can see that they are dealt with fairly and equally
  • Leaders can clearly communicate values and purpose
  • Leaders are also active in engaging their workforce to provide feedback
Meanwhile, meaningful work means that people are stimulated, motivated and committed. A job profile can too easily become a set of objectives and tasks but the job itself not only has to have clearly defined accountabilities, it also has to have these magic ingredients:
– An opportunity to learn
– A chance to achieve, innovate and deliver small, continual improvements
– The social interaction involved in being part of a team, and wider workplace community.
Again, pause to think how your organisation might score against these checklists, or is there more you can do?

5. Top 3 most thought-provoking tweets

You only have to scan through #CRFVienna to get a sense of the inspiration that the sessions produced and the important questions which delegates would be taken back into their respective businesses. So it seems fitting to close on a handful of these tweets:
“Can you achieve high-performance if you replace passion with efficiency?” @IngWaterfield . To consider performance merely as a timely, efficient attainment of goals is very reductive. Rarely are we actually inspired by efficiency, but inspiration and vision are critical in business.
“Meaning is the single most desirable feature in any job and the single most elusive feature in any job”@Katie_Jacobs .
(Taken from the session run by Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD)
“Is HR a co-conspirator in the breakdown of trust and leadership?” @sianharrington. HR should be in a unique position in an organisation to address these very issues of leadership behaviours and must take responsibility where there is sub optimal leadership development.
(Taken from a session run by Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean, School of Management, Bath University)
Do you feel that there is a strong sense of meaning and purpose in your organisation? How does this feed your corporate culture and employee engagement? How effectively is purpose communicated by leaders at all levels? We would love you to join in the debate, and invite you to share your insight below or tweet us.
© Tim Pointer 2015