Work often feels meaningless, but this needn’t be the case. All work matters, whether that work is accomplished in boardrooms or boiler rooms. Many people come home every day from fast food restaurants and cleaning jobs feeling that their day counted. Conversely, many people come home each day from corporate offices and community service agencies feeling their day was a waste.
And, of course, we all know that these last two sentences are equally true in the reverse.
A graduate student of mine once protested that, “the minimum wage workers I hire to serve roast beef sandwiches are stuck in an intrinsically menial industry! All I’ve got is carrots and sticks!” In other words, no full human engagement could be expected from these young men and women! If she wanted performance, it was going to be what I call “beatings and baubles” all the way to quittin’ time.
The industry-leading worker engagement scores received by Chick-fil-A give the lie to my student’s protest. Serving a quick chicken sandwich shouldn’t be intrinsically more meaningful than serving a quick roast beef sandwich! And yet, the highly motivated young workers who tell their customers, “It’s my pleasure,” and appear to mean it, make a convincing case that work can be steered toward drudgery or toward delight.
The job of leadership is to ensure that the company’s great purpose is clearly aligned with the daily work done by people. This requires aligning organizational purpose to team purpose to the individual activities carried forward on behalf of the whole.
How does the work you do every day, either as a solo performer or within the team you serve, align with the overall purpose of your enterprise? The vision of the overall enterprise is called the Great Purpose, and system-wide alignment with the Great Purpose gives an enterprise its power and focus.
“Connect the Vision to Each Person’s Job” is the third part of the Serving Leader Action called Run to Great Purpose, which we model and teach in the The Serving Leader Development System.
There is no task, however seemingly noble, that cannot be rendered menial by stripping it of purpose. Conversely, there is no chore, however ordinary, that cannot be rendered meaningful by showing why it is crucial for the accomplishment of a Great Purpose. In either case, work that is experienced as menial versus work that is embraced as deeply meaningful, leadership is responsible.