Our crisis in meaning is a business opportunity

Our crisis in meaning is a business opportunity

People are the key to any successful business. Without them, a Vision will remain unfulfilled, a business plan will remain words on a piece of paper. In the words of Hal Rosenbluth,"The Customer Comes Second: Put your people first and watch 'em kick butt." He should know. He took a small localised travel agency and turned it into a national powerhouse using just this philosophy.

Attraction, Retention and Engagement have become the catch cry of organisations. If you have high performing talent and high potentials, you want to keep them and inspire them to be engaged at the highest level. They’re harder to find and let's be honest, turnover of employees is expensive on so many levels. It makes sense then to be considered an employer of choice, to bring on board the right people, provide them with the focus and 'watch them kick butt'.

Here's part of the challenge. If competitors for talent are trying to achieve the same status, how are you going to stand out?

By capitalising on a crisis … a crisis of meaning.

Meaning drives our human evolution!

Many years ago, I was drawn to the work of Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall who wrote “Spiritual Intelligence”. They strongly believed that IQ and EQ, even when working together effectively, could not explain the full nature of our intelligence. IQ, our linear rational intelligence and (EQ) our associative emotional intelligence both operate within defined existing boundaries of thinking.  They don’t explain our brain’s capability to operate across separate specialist areas - the unitive function that allows us to address and solve problems of meaning and value. That missing intelligence is Spiritual Intelligence (SQ). According to the authors, human beings are driven and defined by the longing to find meaning and value in what we experience.  We search for something we can aspire to, something that takes us beyond ourselves and something that gives us and our actions a sense of worth.  Our search for meaning creates tension and dissatisfaction which keeps us moving forward.

Anthropologists attribute evolution and our very survival to our drive for meaning.  Viktor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz, author of “Man’s search for meaning”, and founder of Logotherapy, personally experienced the power of meaning. He found that Purpose and meaning help people survive and develop a strong inner world when faced with starvation and abuse of all kinds such as within the concentration camps. According to Frankl, 85% of people are searching for something to give their lives meaning.

There are many other examples from specialist fields of science and from religion of how and why meaning is so important to us as human beings.

If we accept that our search for meaning is part of what makes us uniquely human, then we have a problem. We exist in the midst of a crisis of meaning. Our traditional sources of meaning have been influenced by shared values with family, community, culture and even religion.  But these traditional sources of meaning have broken down for many people.  More people live alone. In-person community is rare, particularly in the city. Many of us seek community on-line and count as friends people we’ve never physically met.  Organised religion has no place in the lives of many. As a species, we are in crisis. Our drive for meaning is a tension that we can’t seem to resolve. Many of us feel empty, uncertain and perhaps even hopeless.

While it's not the responsibility of business to provide meaning, it certainly is a significant opportunity!

Now you may well be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with becoming an employer of choice or improving employee engagement?”

The Silver Lining is that this crisis presents an opportunity for business.

While the need for employees to be productive has been around for centuries, Employee Engagement is a relatively recent term that refers to the level of commitment an employee feels towards his/her employer.  The relative strength of that commitment translates to the amount of effort and energy an employee is willing to give. It also translates to how much of themselves the employee is willing to contribute to the organisation.

Contrary to the belief of an ex-client, employee engagement can’t be mandated. It is an invitation that can be accepted or not by employees.The best result you can get through ‘force’ is compliance: a low level of influence which simply means people do the jobs for which they were hired. Compliance doesn’t get a high level of commitment or contribution. For that, you need people to identify with what you’re trying to achieve or even better, to internalise it so that what the organisation is seeking to achieve becomes their purpose for working too.

Many factors influence the engagement invitation:  the style of leadership, quality of management, systems and processes that facilitate work, professional and personal development opportunities, challenge in their jobs, opportunities to satisfy social needs and of course, pay, working conditions and benefits.

The strongest influence - far more important than pay and benefits, work/life balance and other engagement factors – according to Penna Plc, a UK research company – is meaning at work driven by Purpose and Values.

What is the difference that the organisation is making in the world? Purpose supersedes putting money into the pockets of shareholders although that is important too. It’s about leaving a legacy. It’s about an emotional connection with something bigger than ourselves that inspires us to greater heights. It’s about providing a context and sense of impact for work on a daily basis. It’s about feeling that what each of us does truly makes a difference.

Discovering, articulating and living your organisation’s Purpose and true values –rather than what you think they should be – provides strong foundations for a culture of performance.Aligning all activities and behaviours with your Purpose and true values results in integrity and authenticity.  Employees, clients, strategic partners and others involved with the business will know who you are and what you stand for which makes trust a natural part of those relationships.

When others accurately perceive your Purpose and true values through their interaction with your organisation, your Employer Brand is authentically representing your business and you are far more likely to attract the right people to work with you.

Increasing your employees’ experience of meaning at work is the leverage point for engagement. When they truly connect with your organisation’s Purpose, they will help you with the other factors that influence engagement and performance.  They will help you achieve your organisation’s potential. They will be your biggest advocates in the marketplace. And they will feel that their work is an essential element of the larger plan.

Make no mistake. Meaning may be a soft value but it meets a key need for employees while delivering serious business performance.  Can you afford to ignore this silver lining?


Suzanne Mercier

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