Management Success Tip #167: What’s “Meaningful Work” Anyway? Find Out by Asking!

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People expect more from work now than a paycheck and decent working conditions. Especially the younger generations (read 40 on down) want purpose, a sense that their work is meaningful. It is what makes them happy. Studies have shown that workers are motivated most powerfully by making progress at something that is personally meaningful.

But what is that? What is personally meaningful to one employee may not be personally meaningful to another.

Don’t guess. You’re hardly the man behind the curtain: ask!

What Monique Valcour calls the “coaching” function of management: “. . . restrain your impulse to provide the answers. Your path is not your employeeʼs path. Open-ended questions, not answers, are the tools of coaching. You succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers. This is how people clarify their priorities and devise strategies that resonate with what they care about most and that they will be committed to putting into action.”

It may feel odd to you to ask open-ended questions of your employees: “What do you want for yourself this year?” “How do you see yourself developing your talents?” rather than “Do this, do that.” And “Tell me more” as a follow-up may really upset your usual managerial apple-cart. But the little bit of time and effort it may take to work with your employees in this manner will pay off big dividends in terms of their motivation and commitment.

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