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Hitesh Porwal

Certified Executive Coach

10 July2019

Everyone seems to be talking about leadership and management. But rarely does anybody discuss what perhaps the most crucial element of employee motivation is: “what is in store for me if I achieve these targets and meet every deadline?” Now probably the simplest implicit answer from an employer would be “you get to keep your job and you also get some bonus”, and that is also where any conversation ends.

But great employers and great leaders understand that in order to run a truly motivated workforce, they need something more than monetary rewards for the extra hard work that one is putting in.

A matter of great concern about modern-day corporate is a demotivated workforce that considers their job a money-minting medium; rather than a place, an opportunity to realize and pursue a meaningful purpose.

While scores of studies have tried to get to the root of such widespread indifference and demotivation, an absence of a defined course of action -- to address specific pain points -- has always been felt. It is no surprise then that most organizations, without a practical strategy to engage employees, are reeling under mounting pressure (and cost) of an indifferent workforce that doesn’t feel passionate about what they do. This in turn leads to a higher rate of attrition, a menace that most organizations seem to be trying to contain.

 “Work is fun. And your job is to make it fun if you’re the leader.” - Jack Welch

American business executive and former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once said that the role of a leader is to determine and inculcate in his workforce the vision and direction of a company. That being said, a different approach has come out of the rubble, one that is starkly different from parallel lines of studies that have been proven ineffective in finding a remedy to the demotivation.

However, what is different about this approach is that it doesn’t focus on the workforce; rather, it emphasizes the role of a leader.

I personally applied this approach during my last job as the Managing director with a leading hedge fund administrator. Thankfully, it worked for me too well.

This new approach redefines the role of a leader as a CMO - Chief Meaning Officer.

According to this approach, a leader’s primary job profile includes looping in every member of the staff and letting them know:

·        Where the leader (or the organization) is headed to?

·        Why is the leader headed there?

·        What is in it for the workforce to get there with the leader?

Besides these three vital functions, a leader should also strive to take the workforce along and imbibe in them the company’s mission and long-term vision. Further, an adroit and able leader could also throw light on macro aspects, including the current competition curve, ideal market share the company should be aiming for and finding their competitive edge that makes them stand out from the pack.  

This approach works on the principle that once followers find their purpose, they will be more likely to take care of everything, including clients, processes and even themselves.

Another tenet to this approach is that it is not the salary, but ‘meaning’ that provides the necessary motivation to get out of bed and go to work. For the employer, this leads to increased productivity, enhanced creativity and most importantly, reduced attrition.

In addition, after every quarterly analyst meet, I’d sit with my managers to go over the chairman’s message, convert his vision into operational expectations to provide meaning to my teams. And almost always, I would find the room coming alive, interacting like never before. People would be ready to take up the vision as their personal goal, want to know more, and get excited to work on their newfound purpose. 

This becomes all the more important for a multinational where geographical and hierarchical boundaries can often result in vision-vanity.

You don’t automatically move from being a manager to a leader. Leadership is a lifetime exercise, directed at converting more managers into leaders. The inflection point is that where one would be able to leverage the corporate vision and motivate people to rally towards the goal. The question here remains - what is the ‘meaning’, the true purpose that you have to offer to your followers?

That is one question you would need to find the answer to.

Moreover, there is no reason to think that this approach is only directed at the workforce. As a leader, defining and articulating ‘meaning’ will provide you clarity across three fronts – clarity of purpose, clarity of plan, and clarity of responsibility. Subsequently, any conversation with your workforce will be easier and more productive, considering everybody on board would be aware of the end goal.

If you are a leader:

Start –sharing ‘meaning’ with your team

Increase – percentage of time you talk about ‘meaning’ vs. tasks with your employees during meetings - doesn’t matter if they are a couple of levels below you and ought to report to their respective supervisors.

Stop – underestimating employees’ non-monetary motivations for coming to work.

Decrease – the urge to address each trivial concern of employees. Those are often symptoms of a bigger problem underneath – absence of meaning.

At the same time, make work a fun exercise day in and day out. Make it a habit to celebrate the small victories. It is eventually the little victories that lead to the bigger triumph. After all, it is about time that leaders took up a new role, that of the Chief Meaning Officer.