by Sophy Pern

19 January, 2018

Christmas has been and gone, January – dry or otherwise- is well and truly underway and New Year’s resolutions are starting to fade. Noses back to the grindstone then. So why work?

It’s a question worth asking.

Bills to pay? Clearly a driver for most of us.

And yet sadly for my bank balance I never figured out how to work just for money. As I approach the third decade of my working life I have to acknowledge that I am incapable of working in a set-up that doesn’t match to my values. Put simply- I have to feel that I am doing good work with good people to get out of bed in the morning. And I can’t fake it.  (It’s a strength and a liability- this inability to toe other people’s lines also seems to run in my family- but that is another blog).

So money is a driver- and I argue that it benefits us as change consultants to dig a little deeper.

Our senior clients typically have choices about which organisations to work in, which roles and projects to take up. The extent to which they are willing to exercise these choices vary.  Few and far between are senior individuals with no choice at all. They also have significant influence over the type of roles and assignments they create for those working for them, and the extent to which those working with them stay or go.

And yet many of us fall into the trap of assuming that the people around us really are just working for money. The somewhat taboo question of why do you work?” is rarely asked at work.This is particularly true in organisations with long service- where gradually the idea of people exercising their choices seems a more and more remote possibility as golden handcuffs gently tighten around executive wrists. Some of the most enlivening conversations I have had in the last 12 months have been asking senior managers what they love about their jobs. After the embarrassed laugh and a few deflections people tell you. And although they rarely thank you for asking it’s the type of conversation that creates a different kind of connection. One senior leader very frankly told me “I am motivated by learning- it’s not the money or the title”.

Another hard bitten and demanding CEO who had worked in the Health sector all his life when asked the question about what brought him into this kind of role in the first place became noticeably emotional and shared a very moving story from earlier in his career. I sensed he felt some loss for that ‘person’ who had originally felt compelled to do what he was now doing. And his demeanour lightened at least for the rest of the workshop. This glimpse of his humanity certainly had an impact on me and how I related to him from that point on.  I’m sure the rest of his team would say the same.

I sometimes follow up by asking team leaders what type of role/ project/ environment would best enable each member of their team to flourish. Taking time to think of this enables them to think about what conditions they can create to get the best out of their people. It’s a question they come back to over time.

In the context of organisational change knowing what people hold dear matters. So go ahead. Ask someone why they work. I’d love to know what you find out.


Why Work?

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