" When you're surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible." Howard Schultz

A powerful statement by Howard Schultz, but what does this mean for you and your work place?  We are inundated by grand statements and stories of success, but how can you truly act upon this advice?

Employees perform at their best when they are engaged with their work, and enabled with the right tools and resources to get the job done. research linking employee survey data to performance ratings shows that highly engaged employees are 10 percent more likely to exceed performance expectations.  However, this figure jumps to 50 percent when they are also enabled to do their jobs well.

Let’s look at engagement - how do you increase engagement and motivation in your employees, is it through rewards, incentives, recognition for achievements?  Well the truth is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer. Each employee and team in your organisation is likely to be motivated by something different and essentially, each of these elements play a part but they will work more effectively when your people find meaning in the work they are doing. Read on to see how you can help your team find meaning and increase productivity.

Last year during a training course I was lucky enough to experience the power of meaningful work.

I peered over to my schedule for the day…2pm team building exercise.  Call it GenY arrogance, but I thought I’d seen them all before.

The task seemingly simple; work as a team to put an “item” together in a limited amount of time (we weren’t sure what the item actually was).  Separated in groups of 3, we were given a set of instructions and various tools and parts.   It took some time to look at the diagrams and agree as a team what we should do next; should we separate stages of the construction and then combine our efforts?  We were chatting away and before we knew it 30 minutes had passed and we hadn’t achieved a lot.  I sensed a little bit of frustration from one team member, who just wanted to know what we were making.

Soon after, we were stopped and told to turn our attention to the TV at the front of the room.  The screen lit up and we were looking at images of children and adults in impoverished surroundings, with some of the children looking as young as five.  After a few minutes we could see that they all had one thing in common - they were all amputees.  Some are victims of active land mines, others have lost hands in accidents and some had birth defects.


It immediately became apparent as to what we were building – a prosthetic hand. Whilst the video continued, you could see the impact the video and the task had on each and every person in the room.  There were tears and a stillness in the room, and yet you could sense that there was a collective purpose building.  The facilitator stopped the video and asked us to continue our activity. I have never seen such determination and focus to get something done.  We were building a prosthetic hand, but more than that, we were giving hope, opportunity and freedom to someone in need.

Our team regrouped and we decided to start from scratch.  We now knew why we were participating in this activity, we were connecting with the goal and we understood our purpose.  We now were working better as a team, and those who finished first were offering to help others who had not yet finished.


There was a real sense of collaboration, engagement, commitment and pride.  It was at that moment when I truly understood that MEANING is what makes people thrive and it is critically important to driving performance.

Globally, masses of people are failing to find meaning in the work they can do, this leads to frustration, detachment and a loss of productivity. According to data, only 68% of workers are engaged with their work.   It’s no surprise that employees who find meaning in their work are more motivated and invest more effort and enthusiasm to their role.


There are many things managers and leaders within your organisation can do  to help employees find meaning in their work, and understand how it ties back to business goals.

Have you heard the story of when, President John F. Kennedy visited a NASA space center?  He asked a janitor, “What are you doing?"

"Well, Mr. President, I'm helping put a man on the moon."

No matter how large or small the role, employees need to understand how they are contributing to the larger story within an organisation.  Finding meaning allows individuals to feel engaged and promotes productivity.

Here are 3 things Leaders can start doing today to help their team find meaning:

Share stories of positive client impact: every organisation has stories which show great client impact. Check: Are these being filtered down throughout your organisation? Do managers and leaders have what they need to share these with their teams during meetings and in regular emails? Employees at every level should be able to understand the part they play in having great client/customer impact.  Each employee should be able to connect with why they do what they do, and what that means for the client.

Link personal drivers to team and organisational goals: Equip managers with the tools and training they need to be able to uncover what motivates and energises individuals in their team.  An assessment such as Talent Q Drives looks at an individual’s values and motivations at work, and measures what stimulates and energises employees. Then give managers the training they need to link individual motivators to team and company- wide goals.

Ask the right questions in your employee survey: How many employees in your organisation have found meaning in their work?  What are the common barriers or challenges they are facing?  You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so consider using your employee survey to ask questions in relation to how you can engage and enable your employees to perform at their best.

For more on Employee Engagement: https://www.kornferry.com/solutions/organizational-strategy/employee-engagement

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About the contributor

Paula Haralambous is a Consultant for Korn Ferry Advisory, Australia. She helps organisations by bringing employee opinion and experience to the forefront through the use of innovative diagnostics and consultation.

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