Making Your Work Matter

While reading through some news feeds the other day I came across a Gallup Poll that found over 70% of workers dislike and are disengaged from their jobs. The main reason behind the discontent includes poor management and bosses who ignore talent and do not cultivate growth.

In some way this surprises me and in other ways it does not. Let me explain. I have been fortunate enough to have a career where I’ve worked at just a handful of jobs over extended periods of time. My career started as an intern working in the accounting department of a small business, a chief financial officer of a publicly traded corporation and presently to being the president of my own company. During that period of time I’ve worked for some good people, some not so good and many in between.

The biggest problem with many companies is that they promote the wrong people to manage within their companies. It’s not that the mangers are not qualified in terms of knowledge, as a matter of fact it’s usually the reason why they were promoted. For example, the best sales person gets promoted to manager when they do not have a clue on how to manage a group of people. They are great subject matter experts but poor at motivating and cultivating growth within their groups. The funny part is that it’s not their fault. Many businesses do not have a formal management training program so new managers just wing it as they go. Usually managers come in one of three forms:

The Dictator – They usually manage by fear and are usually the worst type of manager. Employees are seldom asked for their opinions and are generally treated as a means to an end to get the job done. Motivation is usually very low since each person feels as if they have no input other than doing their assigned tasks.

The Working Manager – They usually are easier to work with than a Dictator but generally do just that – work. They are so busy with their day to day job that they never meet with their team other than to make sure they complete their tasks. I found that a large portion of managers fit in this category.

The Delegator – just the opposite of the Working Manager. This person generally has figured out the system where they parse out their work and take all the credit for its completion.

Early in my career I was promoted as a manager for a very small department which consisted of three people that reported directly to me. The work was pretty standard and I was finding that my group pretty much had the system down to a science allowing them to meet their monthly deadlines without even breaking a sweat. It was great to have such an efficient team but I felt they had the potential to go beyond their daily routines. More importantly, this would be a great opportunity to motivate my team and allow them to excel going beyond their normal scope of work. Yep, that was the thinking of some young kid manager looking to change the world in a day. Unfortunately, my small team did not share my enthusiasm. Understandably, most people don’t get excited at the prospect of doing more work especially if the sole purpose is to expand their horizons. Let’s face it most people prefer having a routine that is familiar and comfortable.

So what would be the best way to motivate my group?

Obviously, the easy answer would be monetary rewards in the form of a bonus for each person that goes above some specific goal on a consistent basis. Contrary to popular demand money is not the overall motivator of workers no matter what level they have attained in a company. If you dislike your job the majority of your life is spent in misery. Think about it, a typical full time employee spends close to fifty hours a week if you include your morning prep time, commute and lunch. That’s a lot of time being somewhere you don’t want to be if you hate your job. Bonuses and raises are essential and should be given when earned. However, I have learned from experience that the euphoria from a raise or bonus is usually short term and eventually levels off pretty quickly.

By having such a small group reporting to me it gave me a little more time to meet with each one to see what they wanted from their careers at the company. Although it was not my intention, I practically scared the heck of them by requesting individual meetings about their work flow. In retrospect I could have handled that differently and been a little less formal. After the meetings were completed I was not surprised by my findings. Each person generally delivered their expected quota of work – nothing more, nothing less. When asked if they were fulfilled by their position I received the standard response that it was a nice job and they really liked the people in the office. I took it one step further by asking what would really make them feel enthusiastic about coming to work every day. The responses surprised me. They wanted their work to matter. Not just the daily routine of recording, disbursing and preparing financial statements. For example, one staff accountant who had been with the company for over nine years never sat in on the audit meetings with the CPAs. He always prepared the items on pre-audit checklists but never knew what the final outcome was once the audit was completed. My meeting with the accounts payable clerk was just as informative. It turns out that she had a bachelor’s degree in accounting but took the first job she could find since her family was struggling financially. She too had been with the company for several years and never inquired about an opening for an accounting position.

Having this newly acquired information I took action immediately. First, not only did I invite my staff accountant to the meeting, I let him arrange it and give me an agenda of what topics he thought we should cover that day. I also told him that he would be acting as the liaison between management and the audit team. I assured him that I would support him in every way so he didn’t feel like he was being thrown to the wolves. As I expected, he took the ball and ran with it. He was in control and felt empowered. He never said it but you could see the expression in his face every time he met with me on a status report. As for my accounts payable person, I asked the manager of the financial planning group if his team would let her assist them with some month end analysis. They were open to it and she quickly picked up the system for month end budgeting. As a matter of fact, she did so well that she eventually transferred over to the budgeting and planning team permanently. I always feel that if you can heighten someone’s career even if it means losing them, you’ve done your job as a manger.

Trying to motivate and empower your team has its fair share of defeats along with the victories. Don’t settle, break the routines and most importantly, make their work matter.

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