- Wise Words -
The Meaning in Why
by miriam gilbert
"This is boring!" It is easy to think this if you don't know why your job is important!
Not important because it gives you the means to pay your bills and buy food. But why it is important for the business you work for.
Maybe you know vaguely why your employer needs you to do the things you do. You may have some niggling doubts about a boring task you were given. Then there are those reports that you prepare every month and maybe you wonder what good they do. And of course, you might question those forms you fill in all the time - who needs them and what do "they" do with them?
So maybe you are not crystal clear on why all the things that make up your job are important. Does it matter that you don't know why? At the end, it's just work, right?
No, it is not ok!
Not seeing how your work fit into the wider picture of the organisation has implications, for you and your career.
The good news is it's not difficult to find out why a task matters. Knowing why does not just boost your personal performance, but it also helps the business and gives your career an *unfair* advantage.
Curious? Before we get into the details, here's a quick round-up of what happens when people don't understand why what they do matters.
Bureaucracy, wasted effort and unnecessary work. Businesses are complex systems that evolve and change over time. That means tasks which were needed at one time might be irrelevant at another. Yet this evolution rarely filters through to all parts of the organisation. As a result, you get unnecessary bureaucracy, people wasting time and effort on work that is not needed.
Have you ever heard the phrase: We have always done it this way? Yep, that's a giveaway that the purpose, the "why" of a given tasks hasn’t been questioned for a while.
Left-hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I am sure you have come across this phenomenon: Marketing starts a big ad campaign, then finance cuts their funding. Or the IT department rolls out system upgrades during the busiest time for customer service. One manager tells you to do one thing, only for another manager to tell you to do the opposite. It's very common in large organisations (and small ones are not immune to it, too). It's frustrating and expensive, and frankly, embarrassing, too.hghgh
What about you? If you lack a sense of purpose, if you are unclear why you do what you do, it's not just bad for your company. Finding the meaning in tasks big and small is important for your well-being: emotionally, physically and career-wise.
Research(1) shows that people who find their work meaningful and see a greater purpose in their work than "just a job" or even a career, have higher work and life satisfaction. They might even live longer(2)!
Having a purpose is an essential ingredient for happiness. I don't mean the kind of "I've-just-won-the-lottery" kind, but the deeper, real type of happiness that gives you a positive outlook on life, let's you spot more opportunities and helps you deal with adversity. It's the kind of happiness that Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania calls "flourishing"(3). And it is the ability to flourish which is a strong predictor of leading a good life and even career success.
Sounds a bit esoteric? How about some old-fashioned logic. Finding the purpose in your tasks - even in the boring ones - can enhance your career and there are just three steps to it.
Become a learner and investigator (but don't not an interrogator).
1) Start off with finding out what your business is about. What is its purpose? Be careful not to get sidetracked by a lofty "mission statement". Instead, look at what your customers are buying and why it is important to them. Some examples from my clients:
A travel operator: making travel affordable to as many people as possible because travel broadens the mind.
A transport agency: keep London flourishing by getting people moving around.
An insurance company: providing peace of mind to ordinary families by insuring their valuables
2) Learn about your organisation's business and operating model. Dig down until you understand how the different parts of the organisation fit together and what role they play. What exactly does that department with the strange acronym do? And how do they support the organisation's purpose?
3) Follow your work. Literally. Go and speak to the people who use the output of your work and find out what they do with it. Where does it go? What happens next? And what happens after that? Trail it all the way - you might be surprised what you find. If you find that nothing happens with a particular output, you can legitimately (and nicely) ask if you should really continue to produce it.
Of course, you should be mindful that your investigation does not become an interrogation. No one likes the Spanish Inquisition, let alone "enhanced interrogation"!
But if you ask nicely and from a perspective of genuine curiosity, you'll find your colleagues open to helping you. This can lead to insightful conversations and building connections with another part of the organisation.
The magic of finding purpose. Building business relationships, understanding how the business works, growing personal motivation and performance - not a bad outcome for trying to find the why in boring tasks. What is more, they all underpin successful career progression. The relationships you build will also put you in good stead when you need help or when opportunities for progression comes. Your insights to how the business works will help you spot opportunities. Most importantly, motivated, well performing people are always more in demand than those who see their work as "just a job".