June 2018 Business SCAN
The concept of wellbeing in the workplace has been a major topic for years, but many organisations still don’t know all that it entails or why it is so important. This month’s Hot Topic is about how to protect and enhance wellbeing in our workforce, how to build resilience and how to create a basis for better performance.
The best companies know how to balance strategy and purpose
The term ‘wellbeing’ covers many aspects of the way we feel about our lives, jobs, and relationships. Our feelings of wellbeing at work are influenced by day to day experiences with colleagues and management, how purposeful we feel and the work that we do.
Employers can have a major influence on an individual sense of wellbeing, which can have a multitude of benefits for the organisation itself. The challenge is, building purpose is extraordinarily difficult. Most companies have articulated their purpose, the reason they exist. But very few have made that purpose a reality for their organisations.
To safeguard our company at the level of purpose, we must make strategy the servant rather than the master. Strategy is but one of several important means to operationalise your purpose. Intrinsic human connection to your purpose is even more important.
What we can learn from NASA about meaningful work
“I’m not mopping the floors, I’m putting a Man on the Moon”. Whether fixing electrical wiring or stitching space suits, this was the answer across the entire 400,000-person organisation of NASA in the 1960s.
How did it happen that thousands of employees with vastly different roles were able to rally around the common goal of a lunar landing, for all these people to report an incredible connection to this ultimate goal?
According to a Wharton School management professor, part of the answer is in the persuasive rhetoric of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy managed to translate the abstract mission of advancing science by exploring the solar system into this concrete, time-limited goal of landing a man on the moon before the decade is out. But this kind of transformation of an abstract principle into a concrete manifestation in reality is extraordinarily difficult.
The types of purpose, the types of organisational missions that people find most inspiring tend to be:
- quite grand in scale
- timeless or set on an indefinite time scale
- quite abstract in the sense that they focus on the essential merits of what the organisation is trying to achieve, rather than any specific concrete situation that an employee might find him or herself in
The key is to tweak the way that we tend to think about the goals so that our first instinct is to articulate a concrete, organisational objective that we can all rally around rather than an abstract general principle. The twist, however, is to do this without those objectives losing the gravitas that allows them to be reconstrued as representations or embodiments or vessels that carry the organisation’s ultimate aspirations.
Sources: Chevreux, L., Lopez, J. and Mesnard, X. (2017) The Best Companies Know How to Balance Strategy and Purpose, HBR, Nov 2; Carton A. (2017) Podcast: Meaningful Work: What Leaders Can Learn from NASA and the Space Race, KaW, Mar 16; Finkelstein, S. (2017) 4 Ways Managers Can Be More Inclusive, HBR, Jul 13
Work out a compelling picture of where, ultimately, your organisation wants to go. Then think of how each employee in your organisation/team can get a sense of how their work connects to this mission or vision. Find a way to let people focus even more of their attention and effort on the ultimate goal.
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This KnowledgeBrief Hot Topic is part of our monthly Business SCAN publication
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