Category Archives: Culture

Job Description vs. Vision

Why do people work? Or, put differently, towards what do people work?

Most employees, if asked about their job, will describe the tasks they perform. “I keep the president’s calendar and make her travel arrangements,” they might say, or “I oversee maintenance and repair of the company’s network servers.”

If you press further, asking what they are trying to achieve by those tasks, many will hesitate or stumble, not because they don’t want to explain, but because they have little sense of their work being connected to any larger goals.

Moreover, a distressing number will suggest that their primary concern is simply getting from one day to the next — “I’m trying to stay out of trouble, that’s what I’m trying to achieve.”

Issues of meaning and motivation can be complex in the workplace. One feature, though, is clear. In the absence of a compelling vision of the future, organizational functioning tends to become highly dependent on, and defined by, formal job descriptions.

Within such environments –ultimately created or allowed by leaders  — people perform tasks not to accomplish goals or aims, but simply to discharge the responsibilities of their position.

Under the influence of a workplace culture like this, the office manager orders supplies not to assist in providing better service to clients, but because that’s what the office manager does. The department head holds weekly meetings not to inspire or direct the team she oversees, but because that’s what a department head does.

Job descriptions are, of course, useful and necessary tools. Their utility, however, should not obscure the fact that over-reliance on them tends to inhibit awareness of, and ownership in, the wider goals they are meant to further.

Unless job descriptions are supported by a clear, compelling, and emotionally-resonant vision of the future, organizations will struggle to reach their full potential, despite even furious levels of activity.

It is important to also note that an industry’s arena of functioning does not, in itself, provide any reliable sense vision. Healthcare facilities and social service agencies pursue unquestionably commendable missions. But such organizations can be as mechanical and task-oriented as any machine shop or manufacturing plant.

Put simply, vision is endemic to no class of organization. It’s benefits can be realized only when created through the energy and attention of consciously committed leaders.

Vision, Communication and the Front-Line Employee

Vibrant and meaningful vision is intimately tied to leaders’ dreams hopes for the future. To be effective, though, vision cannot, remain at the level of senior leadership. Only to the extent that it is communicated throughout an organization and collectively embraced does vision become relevant to the work of the organization and begin exerting influence… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Many employees are cynical, apathetic, disillusioned with their work. This is a sad truth of the workplace. What is also true, though, is that none of us want to feel that way about our employment. We would all rather be motivated than unmotivated, rather be fired up about the work we do than indifferent. Given… Continue Reading

What Motivates People? (2 of 3)

We previously explored research that Frederick Herzberg did on primary sources of workplace motivation —  things like achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, and growth and development. These findings are valuable in themselves, but Herzberg didn’t stop there. He also asked employees to describe times they had been particularly dissatisfied, uninterested, and unengaged in their work.… Continue Reading

Motivation, Culture and “Bad Attitude” Employees

Almost nothing is more frequently lamented in management circles than “bad attitude” employees, those people it seems nothing can be done with. It’s true that few workplace dynamics are harder to address than antagonism, apathy and hostility. But rarely mentioned is the role that sincere and well-meaning leaders can play in creating such “bad attitude”… Continue Reading

Employees, Donkeys, and Getting Things Done

In some ways, motivation is less complicated than one might imagine. Involving people in decisions that impact them, recognizing the value of their contributions, giving them opportunities to assume responsibility in meaningful ways — study after study has shown the importance of factors like these. Yet countless workplaces fail to supply such sources of motivation.… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Leadership is a 100 percent human undertaking. Systems are populated by people. Policies are embraced or rejected by people. Plans are enacted or ignored by people.  And because of this, effective leadership hinges on a leader’s ability to access the talent, enhance the capacity, and develop the potential of people. But what are these human… Continue Reading

Perceptions, Authority, and Perceptions of Authority

Managers today often perceive relatively little hierarchical “distance” between them and their subordinates. Yes, they might shoulder certain responsibilities and make the final call in certain situations. But they generally see themselves as part of the team. That perception, though, is in many ways a consequence of the very authority they hold (and their subordinates… Continue Reading

The Wake of Leadership

Employee ownership, commitment, loyalty and initiative are key to any outstanding organization.  But astute leaders know that such qualities are too important to be left to chance. They must be woven into the fabric of workplace functioning. They must, in other words, be made a part of organizational culture. Take a moment to think about… Continue Reading

Guest Blog: Involvement and the Thinking and Judgement of Others

I have recently been using the Hanging the Mirror: The Discipline of Reflective Leadership in my leadership coaching and consulting work. After reading the book at my suggestion, a leader in one of my client organizations had the self-awareness and courage to tell me that he believed he was doing a poor job in the… Continue Reading

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