I’ve always been a sucker for free things.
I suppose I get that from my Grandma, who was (in)famous for bringing her big purse out to dinner and loading it up with free crackers and dinner rolls.
It turns out: for some reason, stale leftover dinner rolls taste a lot better when you didn’t actually have to pay for them.
Now I’ll admit that being an easy target for free stuff has taken me to some weird places. Eg. In college, I ate a Habanero pepper for a free t-shirt and a Corona. Had to get that free t-shirt.
For the record, this was not an even exchange.
But as I grew as a leader, I realized that “free” is much harder to come by in business. In the open market that our companies operate in, it seems like we always have to give something up—money, time, etc.—in order to get something in return.
Case-in-point: I recently had to pay a “document transfer fee” to my mortgage company when we were refinancing. When I asked them what it is, and was able to cut through the clever positioning, it became clear that I was paying $40 for some person to walk a document down the hall to some other person.
Things never really seem “free” these days. Especially gaining an advantage in business.
Or so I thought…. until my nerdiness took me down a rabbit hole of learning about human motivation.
What I learned is among the most important universal truths that leaders need to understand.
People want to do work that is meaningful. And making work meaningful cost us nothing.
People want their work to matter. To be significant.
And there is a whole pile of research that tells us that when people find meaning in their work, they are way more creative, engaged, and productive.
Research has shown us that when we leaders capture their peoples’ hearts through meaning and purpose, they will give up to 40% more discretionary effort.
And companies that bring their purpose to the fore have been shown to be considerably higher performing and more profitable.
And best of all: doing so is totally free, other than time and intention.
Pay $0, and get huge benefit. That’s my kind of deal. I know my Grandma would like that, too… as long as it came with free rolls on the side.
Here are 3 phrases you can use today to make the work that your people are doing matter.
The Language of Leadership: Creating Meaning
#1: Let’s say you’re faced with a key decision on whether or not to invest in a new product feature. As the leader, try asking this question:
“How will [this new feature] make our customers’ lives better?”
Framing the decision in this way is bound to make for a higher quality decision, given that it has to make customers lives’ better for them to be willing to pay your company more money for it.
But even more, it takes the focus off of features and functionality, and puts it where it belongs… on customer impact. On how we will make our customers’ lives better by our product’s presence in it? This makes the product decision matter at a far deeper level.
#2: While it is true that at the most fundamental level, most people have an innate longing to serve others, we also know that different people derive purpose and meaning from different things. Different causes. Helping different populations of people.
So as a leader, an important part of your job is to understand what makes each person tick—what they care most deeply about. And where possible, help them connect their work to that thing.
To do this, ask your people:
“Who do you feel the most drawn to serving? And what is meaningful about that?”
And #3: This is a simple one, but don’t mistake the simplicity for ineffectiveness.
As a leader, get in the habit of saying:
“This matters because __________.”
Too often, our people can get lost in the day-to-day hustle, and forget why they’re doing all of this in the first place. And when this happens, research tells us that we’re bound to get less out of them.
So as a leader, you want to make it a point to pull people out of the fog regularly, and remind them what matters about the work they’re doing.
You can do this by highlighting why the work they’re doing—the role, the project, the initiative, the challenge—matters.