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Managing to Make a Difference by Larry Sternberg

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Chapter 20Emphasize the Why

We tend to focus on the what. What are you working on? What are your expectations? What is your plan? Most job descriptions are all about the what. But the why is also important. Understanding the why changes the way employees think—and feel—about their work.

Much has been written about the relationship between meaning and engagement. There is a dramatic difference in engagement between (a) employees who see their jobs merely as a set of tasks and (b) employees who perform exactly the same job, but understand the meaning of those tasks. Am I just laying bricks or am I building a school? Meaning enhances engagement.

More and more, employees want answers to the following types of questions:

  1. How do I make a difference in the lives of others through my work?
  2. Why is my role important to the team?
  3. How does our organization contribute to a better world?

The demands of any job can create a lot of pressure to focus on the tasks at hand, to focus on the what. Tasks must be accomplished. Things must get done. Much of life involves unglamorously soldiering on. To increase engagement, managers must ensure that employees are aware of the why.

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