At the Heart of Culture: Work That Matters

work that matters

To most of us, the phrase Work that Matters infers job satisfaction. Our intended outcome is a workplace culture characterized by lower stress, lower turnover, and higher productivity – in business, a ‘win-win’ for employees, customers and shareholders. The logic is infallible. So, I ask you, why is there such a gap between the theory and the practice? Why are so many organizations and so many employees struggling to find workplace nirvana?

Work that Matters is a key success factor for every business. But, as a concept, it is no different than a long list of other key success factors that organizations strive to achieve. We read about these factors in the quintessential mission statements that occupy real estate in annual reports and gather dust in reception lobbies. Companies say they want to be customer-centric, to be innovative, to produce outstanding products and services, to be environmentally responsible, to be socially responsible, and so on. But, they continue to fall short of these superlatives. Herein lies the difference between objectives and strategy.

Matters that Work
It’s impossible to find Work that Matters without implementing Matters that Work. Some of these matters are the responsibility of the company, others are shared between the company and the employee. Without 5 core prerequisites in place, Work that Matters will be continue to be elusive.

  1. Matters of Vision. The starting place is a corporate purpose that will not only resonate with employees, it will bind them together. Sure, we’d all prefer a moral purpose, such as working for a company that is saving lives or saving the planet. But, that’s not to say you can’t be inspired by a company vision that thrills customers the way Zappos does.
  2. Matters of Values. For the nearly 5,000 employees who work at L.L. Bean, the idea of selling really good merchandise at a reasonable profit and treating customers like human beings is worth the effort. For Wegman’s Food Markets, it’s all about caring, high standards, making a difference, respect, and empowerment. Those who walk the talk create Work that Matters.
  3. Matters of Teamwork. Teamwork is more than the ability to work together toward a common goal. It is the opportunity and a privilege to do so – a matter of allowing ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results. When they do this, they collectively celebrate the results.
  4. Matters of Excellence. If you strive for mediocrity, you’ll never be happy in your work. Likewise, if you strive for excellence in an organization that blocks your ability to realize excellence, you’ll never be happy in your work. A matter of excellence is a shared responsibility. The company must create an environment in which achievers can achieve.
  5. Matters of Focus. Is vision, values, teamwork, and excellence, enough? Not if you are working on a plethora of matters that aren’t adding value. So why do you do them? Is it because you cling to tasks that make you feel busy or important? Look at your daily tasks and decide which ones can either be dropped, delegated, or outsourced. Ultimately, when you do less, better, you’ll find yourself doing more of the things that make a difference.

A Starting Place
Of course, there’s a lot more to job satisfaction than these 5 core prerequisites. That said, for those keen to realize a more human way to do business, the starting place is rather simple. Seek out organizations who know that happy employees make for happy customers, and that happy customers make for happy shareholders. These companies are easy to find, but job vacancies in those organizations? Not so much, for the obvious reason.

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John Bell is the author of Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World. He is the retired CEO of coffee & chocolate maker Jacobs Suchard North America, best known for Toblerone, the triangular Swiss Chocolate bar. A prolific blogger, his musings on strategy, leadership, and branding appear in several online journals including Fortune and Forbes.

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