In his upcoming book, The Why of Work, world-acclaimed
leadership expert David Ulrich teams up with clinical psychologist
Wendy Ulrich to explore the "why" of work - the common driving
force behind every successful organization. The Ulrichs' unique
step-by-step system combines proven professional techniques and
sharp psychological insights to bring new meaning to our work and
its impact on the world outside the workplace. Filled with
questionnaires, checklists, interviews, and case studies, it is
designed to engage your team in the most challenging times. The
Ulrichs spoke with Learning Executives Briefing about the
Learning Executives Briefing: What was the
reasoning that led you to ask the questions that formed the new
book, The Why of Work? Has work fundamentally changed?
Dave Ulrich: There are many reasons to write a
book. At a professional level, this book captures a seemingly
growing movement of people who are seeking more meaning in their
lives. We see this need in the broader society: Purpose Driven Life
sells more than 30 million copies; coming out of an economic
depression, people are feeling an emotional recession and fatigue,
generation Y employees are seeking more social responsibility,
retirees are thriving to find meaning, the rates of psychological
depression are high, and so forth. People can find meaning at home
with family, church groups, and hobbies; and among friends. But,
since we spend so much time at work, we believe that organizations
can be the universal setting for the universal need for meaning in
our lives. We see this topic being addressed by thoughtful
colleagues such as Marshall Goldsmith, Rosabeth Kanter, and Lynda
Gratto. We want to write about how leaders become meaning makers.
And, making meaning also makes money for the company. At a more
personal level, we are "meaning junkies" who like to find meaning
in our lives. We often find it in work and believe that the
research we have done helps us to figure out how leaders can make
LXB: How are the goals and desires of an
individual to achieve success and happiness at work in sync with
the goals of an organization? How are they at odds?
Wendy Ulrich: Making meaning has to make sense and
cents. Making meaning is an enabler that helps deliver business
goals. If not, it is not sustainable. We are not advocating
happiness for the sake of personal well being, but for business
results. When employees create meaning, they are more productive.
When more productive, employees create customer commitment. When
more productive, employees help shape investor confidence that
shows up in stock price. Employee meaning builds a company's
reputation in the community. Leaders should not work to create
meaning without a clear business case.
LXB: In what ways can an organization underscore
values of stewardship and accountability that help employees see
how their personal values align with corporate values to make a
real difference in the real world?
Dave Ulrich: Think of companies that you admire:
Google, Apple, Nike, or Nokia. All of these companies exist to
produce goods and services that customers will value. But they also
have a sense of social responsibility that engages employees.
Employees who work for a company where their personal identity is
consistent with the company identity will find more meaning in
their work. Google's corporate identity is innovation; Apple's is
unique design; Nike's is athletic fit; and Nokia's is connection.
Employees who have a personal identity should select to work in
those companies where their identity fits. Those who want
connection more than innovation may choose Nokia over Google and
vice versa. Leaders who shape a compelling purpose for the company
that also matches what motivates employees will have higher
productivity, customer service, and financial results.
LXB: There is no doubt that the past several years
have been difficult for many companies. If an organization is
beginning to climb out of financial or operational doldrums, what
are its first steps in building a positive work environment?
Wendy Ulrich: We culled the research and practice
on creating a positive work environment (or culture) and identified
10 practices that managers may enact to shape this work setting.
This starts with the attitude and mindset of the management teams.
Are they focused on self interest or other service?
Do they define success through humility or arrogance? Are their
core values fuzzy or explicit? Do they encourage or discount new
ideas? Do they foster connections or individual actions? With a
positive mindset, managers may then build practices - such as
communication, participation, and accountability - to make sure
that the positive work environment exists. This sounds abstract,
but when we ask people, "Can you tell me an experience where the
work setting was positive and encouraging versus negative and
diminishing?," everyone can identify the characteristics and
feelings of abundant versus deficit organizations.
LXB: A hard-nosed CEO of the 1980s might scoff at
the notion of creating and maintaining an atmosphere of civility
and happiness among the workforce. Why have things changed so much
in just a few years?
Dave Ulrich: The management model of commandand-
control has been replaced by one of coaching and collaboration. The
hard-nosed manager who is after sustainable profits will soon
realize that he can get the profits when he hovers over his
employees and observes their work. But when the managers have to
attend to other business in other parts of the world, employees
trained to produce to visible requirements will slack off when they
have a chance. In contrast, when employees have a sense of how
their participation in the company will help them to find meaning
in their professional and personal lives, they will stay productive
without direct supervision. Talented employees expect to be treated
with dignity, and customers and investors will have more confidence
in firms where employees are committed.
LXB: How are high-performing teams like a
long-term successful marriage? Why should an organization care if a
team is happy as long as it performs?
Wendy Ulrich: High-performing teams are
highrelating teams. Teams can go through the motions of the work
and they can perform in the short term. Longer term, teams where
team members have meaning and purpose through the team will perform
higher. Spouses can sometimes go through the motions and be legally
married, but socially separated. Teams can go through motions, but
without emotion and meaning they are not as likely to be as
productive. Individual team members have discretionary energy, and
that energy can go up or down depending on the nature of the team.
LXB: You write: "Commitment comes from building an
employee value proposition that engages employees to use their
discretionary energy to pursue organization goals." How does an
organization sell those goals to a generally skeptical workforce,
and not make it appear that they are asking even more of them?
Dave Ulrich: What does an employee want from work?
Some employees work only for money and find their source or life's
purposes outside of the work setting. These employees may be
competent in that they can do their job and committed in that they
would be willing to show up to work on time every day. Competence
captures the head, and commitment captures the hands and feet. But
until a company captures the heart and soul, employees are not
fully present and productive. We think that the heart comes when
employees find a sense of meaning from work. And this can occur at
all levels of a company. In the creative television show Undercover
Boss, the bosses discover that employees at all levels are very
competent, committed, and contributing to company goals. When
bosses can find creative ways to institutionalize this sense of
contribution, employees stay fully productive.