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Connect People With The ‘Why’ Of The Work They Are Doing

“…You have to connect people with the why. They have to understand the deeper meaning of the work they are doing and even if the work doesn’t connect to them directly then they must understand how the organization creates deeper meaning in the community…”


These were the words of one of the senior leaders that we interviewed for our Intentional Leaders research. We asked these leaders what challenges they were facing, how they were tackling those challenges and what they found to be effective in addressing these issues.

One of the principles that became particularly clear in our conversations was that team members of all generations, but particularly Millennials, want to see a direct connection between their own values and the work that they are doing. Failing that, they want their organization to be making a difference in the community.

One of the senior leaders told us that he has to work hard as a leader to know his team members well – to understand their motivation and their aspirations and then to connect the team member with work that would best suit them.

This is different from trying to be friends with your team members. Leaders still carry the responsibility of driving the organizational strategy forward. In order to do so, they must know their staff, know their capabilities and work with them to ensure that they are giving their best work. They must communicate the meaning of the work and connect it to the capability of each team member.

To give you an example: Helen is the CFO of a manufacturing company that creates products out of extruded plastics. The organization’s most popular product is a display shelf sold through a client to retail stores.

Helen’s team is a mixture of hard-working, honest accountants drawn from several generations.  As you would expect, her team is ethical and motivated by the principle of professionalism.

But Helen goes further.  When a new staff person comes on board, she makes a point of taking them on a tour of the plant, explaining the different roles of the people working on the plant floor. She also takes the time to find out what kinds of volunteering the staff person does in their spare time, what causes they like to support and what they like to do in their leisure time.

When it comes time for the annual fundraising appeal for charities in the community, she makes sure to involve staff in picking the organizations that would receive the support. Helen’s team members feel respected and appreciated for who they are outside of work and typically put in more effort within their working day.

Staff connect to the “why” of the work and that builds loyalty and commitment which drives productivity.

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