All of us at some point wonder if what we’re doing matters. Photo courtesy of BigStock (1749550).All of us at some point wonder if what we’re doing matters.
Jeff Goins, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)


Some time ago, author and career coach Kevin Brennfleck told me about a time when he and his wife Marie noticed construction workers installing underground pipe near their home. When they questioned the workers why they were installing a new line, the workers responded with a shrug that they didn’t know why — they were simply told to lay orange pipe, so they were laying orange pipe.

Does it sound like those workers are satisfied with their life’s work? Is their employer getting 110% engagement from them? Are their customers getting full value for the money?

Most likely, no, no, and no.

And yet, the work they do directly impacts the quality of life for Kevin, Marie, and any other indoor plumbing-enjoying resident. In fact, some Americans will actually sacrifice vacation time and money to volunteer in third-world countries to do similar work as these construction workers so that people can have clean water and sanitation. The construction workers in Michigan may not know the “why” for their work, but you can bet the volunteers in third-world countries know the “why.” And the “why” is the starting point for most people becoming fully engaged in their work.

Keeping employees (and ourselves) engaged in their work is significantly impacted by TPI:

  • Team purpose – Understanding and believing in the “why” of my organization and what difference we are making in people’s lives.  (Why does our work matter?)
  • Personal purpose – Understanding the “why” of my specific work and what difference I’m making toward the team purpose. (Why do my personal skills matter?)
  • Interesting to themFinding a good mix of work so that at least 50%-80% of activity fits my personal wiring and provides opportunities to learn and grow. (Why should I enjoy the work itself?)

Who is responsible for these three components? Who has the “Why”?

In The Employee Engagement Mindset, Timothy Clark reports that fully engaged employees (only 20% to 25% of employees in the average organization) view these as their own responsibility. “Engaged employees take primary responsibility for their careers, their success, and their fulfillment,” he says. “They own their own engagement.” The other 3 out of 4 employees view it as the company’s responsibility.

The lesson for individuals? Be among the top 25% of people who take personal responsibility for their own engagement — find out how your work matters, or make appropriate changes so that you can do work that you are passionate about. If job seeking, don’t just chase any job that is posted — pursue the employers that are accomplishing things that make your pulse race.

The lesson for leaders? First, try to hire individuals who own the “why” themselves — they already know why the work matters, why their personal skills matter, and why they find the work interesting. Second, never take it for granted that your people understand the “why” of your business and the “why” of their own role — take every opportunity to communicate the “why” in a variety of ways.  Acknowledging that your employees have a need to feel like their efforts matter will generate the 110% engagement you want to achieve.

What is the “why” of the work you are focusing on in 2013?