The importance of meaning of process work

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Why is meaningful (process) work so important?

According to a study – of a few years ago – by Gallup, only a minority of employees in Western countries are involved in, or committed to, their work. Click here for more details about this report.

Positively looking at this observation, it means that there is a huge potential for improvement. This definitely confirms that – as you may have read in this blog – Lean’s 8th waste – i.e. poorly utilised human skills, talent and creativity – should be the main concern of most employers.

Translated into numbers, the Gallup study means that these organisations having a poor employee engagement score could

  • increase creativity and innovation with 300%
  • have 66% less absenteeism
  • decrease safety incidents and other risks with 50%
  • deal with 125% less burnouts
  • obtain 45% more overall productivity and 33% higher profits

No doubt that an organisational culture like one with self-managing process-teams will help to achieve those improvements.

Meaningful process work and Happiness

Simon Sinek - working hardLet’s consider one of the best definition of happiness I ever read : “Happiness is the result of giving meaning to your life and leading a more meaningful life. Doesn’t this mean that meaningful activities lead to a deeper form of well-being, and thus lead to higher employee motivation and commitment? Or as Simon Sinek quotes: “Working hard for something we don’t care is called stress, while working hard for something we love is called PASSION“.

Organisational design practices fostering meaning of work

Let us look now at some practical measures which may enhance the meaning of process work for your employees.

Connect your employees with customers

Excepted sales people, many employees do not know who the company’s customers – or even more specifically, the process’ customers – are. Let alone that they ever meet customers.

Connecting your people to customers will help them to understand much better what customers consider as important, and how quality and defects impact the customers and their activities or their business. Needless to mention that this will help to improve your own business processes as well.

Moreover, you will get your people “out of anonymity”, and they will be proud to hear from customers directly how important their work is for their customers.

Make sure that this connection is sustainable, so that your people retain the feeling and stay connected with ‘their’ customers; because your customers’ needs change with time.

This Harvard Business School paper illustrates the importance and the benefits of such Operational Transparency, where employees better understand customers, but also where customers better understand their supplier’s processes. This study also shows the positive impact on employee satisfaction and motivation, in addition to the benefits of quality.

Include the most demanding customers

For our customersDo not limit this ‘connection’ only to satisfied customers, because your people will not learn the most from them. They will learn much more from critical customers. Hence, bring them into contact (also) with the least satisfied customers, from which they will probably learn the most about potential improvements – to products, services, and the process(es) they are working for.

I have been managing ERP-projects for many customers, but I learned the most from demanding customers. Namely a customer who manufactures medical devices, whose quality requirements are much higher than in most other industries, because human lives depend (immediately) on possible quality defects or errors.

Help your people to understand the impact on (their) customers even better

Invite them – or challenge them – to determine quality criteria together with the customers to make this concrete and tangible.

Or let your employees, whenever possible, participate to customers’ important activities where your products or services are used.

When I was working for the world’s largest fine filtration company, we assisted customers starting a new plant. And people from our production – even from the R&D department – were involved to share valuable know-how with customers. Though above all, the manufacturing and R&D colleagues were getting very interesting feedback from customers which could help to produce and develop even better filtration systems.

Make also sure that employees connect with end customers or end users, not only with their direct, intermediary customers. So, if your products are sold – among other – through distributors or any other indirect channel, knowing your final customers is key.

Acknowledge and reward your employees work

SjapooThis does not necessarily have to be a financial reward. Unpaid volunteer work may also be carried out by highly motivated people. Particularly when someone shares the same values or ideals, a great deal of intrinsic motivation can result from this. This is obviously even more the case when the work is well appreciated.

Did you ever consider to let your – internal or external – customers appreciate the work of your people by means of simple methods such as “likes” or through the NPS-score?

Connect your peoples work with the higher goals of the organization

Many organisations share higher goals by means of mission statements and the company vision with all employees. Or so it should be. However, this does not mean that this kind of higher goals are well understood by everybody. It does often not tell either how your employees’ work could contribute to higher goals.

Too often, the vision is either vague, or not compelling for all employees because they do not see the relation between their work and the organisation’s higher goals.

Therefore, making clear to everyone how their work is related to those goals makes a huge difference in your employees’ intrinsic motivation.

So, I was quite surprised some years ago to hear from an air force pilot who was very proud of how his work was important for peace keeping.

Or let’s take another example : someone working on research e.g. at Tesla so to extend the life of batteries, or to shorten the charging time of these, is not only helping to make cars that are preferred by customers. They are also helping to improve the world by decreasing CO2-emissions, and thus helping to combat climate change thanks to reaching even more customers wo want to drive an electric vehicle.

9 performance dimensionsLike already illustrated in this blog, the 3 goals layers – being the organisation level, the process level, and the performer level -, are the ultimate way of linking an organisation’s higher goals down to employees’ team or even individual goals.

Meaning of change

It goes without saying that also change – either at organisational, process, team or individual level – should have a meaning, and that this meaning should be explained explicitly to anyone it concerns.

Too often, change is decided by directors and managers, without even explaining the reason to the ones it impacts. Resulting in resistance to change, often impeding the aimed change, or at least making it much less efficient or less effective. To read more about the process of change and sources of resistance to change, please read this blog.

What will you do – or what have you done already – to give more importance to the meaning of process work or to the meaning of change in your organisation? Please share your experience or your ideas about the meaning of process work in below Comments box.

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