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Why do you work?

Dave Ulrich is a professor of business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and co-founder of The RBL Group. Wendy Ulrich has been a practicing psychologist for over twenty years and is the author of two books. She is the founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth in Utah, which offers seminar-retreats on creating meaning in life.They have published a new book, The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win.

At some point, all leaders have been followers. Effective leaders can identity and learn from both their good and bad leaders who motivated them and modeled how they now lead. Unfortunately, some leaders seem to forget what it means to be a follower once they become leaders. Leadership is a team sport and without followers leaders have no impact. If leaders see themselves as meaning makers, they can position themselves to guide employees to find purpose, an outcome that we believe directly benefits customers, investors and other stakeholders, and the bottom line.

Leaders understand followers by customizing work so that followers not only meet goals, but also find meaning and purpose from their work experience. A number of disciplines have attempted to figure out how people make their lives meaningful. We have adapted these insights into seven questions followers ask and leaders can answer so that their followers feel well led.

Identity: What do I want to be known for as an employee?
Employees bring personal strengths to their work. When leaders recognize these strengths and use them to strengthen others, employees are more motivated. Statoil, headquartered in Norway, is one of the largest oil firms in the world. As they begin to do business in emerging markets, they realize that they need to identify which employees seek the adventure and sometimes trauma of working outside their home country. As they match employees' strengths and desired identity with business requirements, the right employees take the right job, find more meaning and are more productive.

Purpose: What matters most to me?
Employees are motivated by different things. In Pfizer's R&D group, many scientists are motivated by the insights they can generate from their research. In Pfizer's sales and marketing group, employees are more likely to be motivated by the thrill of the sale and can be motivated by setting and meeting goals. In Pfizer's government relations group, employees need to find ways to collaborate with government officials to meet federal guidelines. Many of Pfizer leaders are motivated to help build the next generation of employees. Leaders who attend to what motivates followers will help them find what matters most to them.

Relationship: Whom do I work with?
High performing teams are high relating teams. When employees connect with each other socially and emotionally, they are more likely to combine their different skills into meeting customer needs. (Leaders can help build relationships at work by referral hiring where top employees refer peers to join the company, by disagreeing without being disagreeable, and by attending to personal issues at work.)

Work environment: How can I work in a positive work environment?
Google has publicly committed to creating a positive work environment where leaders act with humility, information is widely shared, decisions are made through involving others, and the physical work setting reflects the employee's unique identity. Others have worked in a work setting characterized by politics, backbiting, and negativity. Leaders who work on culture do not have to be personally present to influence how employees feel about their work.

Work itself: How can I customize the work I do?
We have a friend whose ideal job would be a toll booth operator. This would not work for us or other of our friends. But she claims that this simple, repetitive, and routine work would allow her to do it well and to focus her energy on personal off-work pursuits. Leaders need to help followers customize work so that it is easy, energizing, and enjoyable. This might mean tailoring the type of work (social, intellectual, or physical), location of work (inside vs. outside), characteristics of work (routine vs. innovative, autonomous vs. control) and when I work (flexible hours vs. in office). When leaders shape work to meet the needs of followers, followers adapt to the job and are more productive.

Learning and growth: How can I learn and grow from the work I do?
Change happens. Leaders who help followers learn and grow from change build more successful organizations. A leader once told us that it took 50 years to create a company that can be lost in two years if it does not adapt quickly. P&G believes that being first to market with new products gives them up to 50% of market share with lagging competitors competing for the rest. Leaders help employees change by learning and being resilient from successes and failures. Followers who learn to anticipate and adapt to change rather than being threatened or overwhelmed by it find more meaning from work.

Delight: How do I come to enjoy work?
Sometimes work is a four letter word and can be demanding and draining. But, leaders can help employees have fun at work by using humor, by being playful, by laughing at oneself, by celebrating successes or personal days, and by encouraging civility. A leader at a technology company brought cookies to work to give employees a symbol of his concern when corporate budgets for treats were cut. When followers find fun at work, they respond in kind.

By asking and answering these seven questions through the perspective of their followers, leaders become meaning makers. And, the good news is that making meaning for followers leads to better service for customers and makes money for investors.

By Dave Ulrich, Wendy Ulrich

 |  June 11, 2010; 11:38 AM ET |  Category:  Business Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

John Chambers of Cisco wants to teach after he retires. I hope he makes it.
My career ended after one of Cisco's Logan's Runs for those over 40.

After being micromanaged for 28 years by power craving middle managers (one of which I became), I re-invented myself, walked away from the big money and egos and began teaching English in Mexico. My retirement plans were also teach and live somewhere the natives have never seen a snow shovel.

I'm doing it now instead of later and I'm delighted to do it. My private students love me or leave me and I have about 15 who have stayed with me up to three years.

The money's not good, but it's all relative. I live comfortably, come home to a cool hammock in the mountains after work (and I can even buy cheap red wine from Sam's club)

In my area of sales and marketing, the best responsible salespeople were promoted to middle management, qualified or not. It takes a big ego to sell and a promotion to make most of them into real cabrones.

It's almost Buddhist after being promoted up to Director two times to work for myself now, with a smart niche market of going to teach people in their homes and offices and finally enjoying the hell out of what I do.

Posted by: areyousaying | June 13, 2010 9:45 PM

I am so tired of this notion that managers are there to guide and mold the people under them. My experience in corporate America is that it's kiss up and kick down and screw your happiness. When I worked at Bank One we were required to work 50 hours a week, minimum. You either did what they said, to hell with your life, or we'll have security escort you off the premises.

Posted by: tom_ryan | June 13, 2010 9:11 PM

Having worked in Government (Army +Civil Service) for 26 years I can testify to the banality of these recommendations. The system is clogged with incompetents with absolute zero imagination and management skill. My advice to the young is to leave as soon as possible to maintain your sanity. I was blessed to inherit a farm and can "do my own thing"--the only way to go.

Posted by: crewsin | June 13, 2010 5:42 PM

"If leaders see themselves as meaning makers, they can position themselves to guide employees to find purpose, an outcome that we believe directly benefits customers, investors and other stakeholders, and the bottom line."

Interesting that this "outcome" benefits everyone but the employee, who seems to exist only for the purpose of making others wealthy. But hey, Dave and Wendy Ulrich are true believers in the basic tenet of their Mormon business practices...Money=Godliness.

Posted by: FriendofKeyserSoze | June 13, 2010 3:46 PM

Absolutely claptrap, especially coming from two people who have managed to extricate themselves or avoid working for a corporation. The fact is, and this is coming from someone with real life corporate experience, that most corporations are horrible places to work: a rigid caste system; boring, meaningless tasks and duties for the majority, and horrible pettiness, striving, and backbiting. These two people need to just shut the hell up.

Posted by: 1180 | June 13, 2010 3:04 PM

This lovely, I'm sure, corporatistic couple with their vacuous and naive advice herein represent one of the fundamental reasons why I left the corporate world five years ago. Ughhh! You are disgusting.

Posted by: GDWymer | June 13, 2010 1:16 PM

why not count the reasons employers should stick with the American worker instead of a low wage foreign worker...

Posted by: DwightCollins | June 13, 2010 11:34 AM

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