Because meaning is such a personal matter, leaders need a variety of tools and approaches to the meaning-making process. Leaders institutionalize meaning as an organization-wide agenda in many ways, but all leaders need to attend to shaping meaning at least three levels: 1) for the organization as a whole; 2) for them as individuals; and 3) for each of their employees.
1) At an organization level, leaders need to forge the vision and values that will guide and infuse all aspects of the organization, tying the organization’s broadest sense of meaning directly to customer needs, investor values, and community interests.
2) In addition, leaders need to discover their own “language” of meaning: What types of experiences and perspectives help them find passion for their work, guide their pursuits, and infuse their workday with energy and delight?
3) Leaders also need to become multi-lingual in the languages of meaning, understanding the range of motivators and experiences that create meaning for the variety of employees they interact with each day.
We propose a meaning “menu” that helps leaders tune in to the values, goals, and preferences of both their organizations and their people. This menu includes seven questions that help personalize the search for meaning for both individuals and organizations, guiding the process of institutionalizing meaning as a leadership agenda. Assessment tools in The Why of Work will help leaders determine at both an individual and organizational level which of these meaning-drivers matter most to them and their organization. These tools will also help them identify who in the organization is tending the fires of meaning in all seven domains to ensure that the benefits of each domain are fostered for the organization as a whole.
Within each domain, we offer additional assessment instruments and we suggest tools and practices to help leaders tune up their work lives and infuse them with meaning, creating abundant organizations in which people have the sense that there is “enough and to spare” of the things that matter most to them. For some people this will mean a more focused personal achievement agenda; for others it will mean attention to creating a more positive work environment; for others it might mean a rededication to learning and resilience; others may find work meaningful only when there are supportive personal relationships.
As leaders build the agenda of building the why of work for each employee, they never lose sight of the organization’s why – meeting customer needs, investor expectations, and community values. Leaders must create a line of sight between the work of each employee, stakeholder interests, and measures of corporate viability. Building on strengths and achieving personal delight at work is not enough. Corporations must build on their strengths that strengthen others – the customers and communities they are in business to serve. Assessing the financial impact of meaning-making is not only appropriate but necessary to sustaining abundant organizations.