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Running on all five sources: Actions leaders can take to create more meaningful work

Knowing about the five sources of meaning is a great start, but the real magic occurs when leaders begin to embed them into how the work gets done.
Timothy Bromley

Guides organizational transformations with particular expertise in behavioral science, advanced analytics, and talent management

Taylor Lauricella

Advises organizations on a range of culture and talent topics with particular expertise in driving behavior change at scale through capability building, cultural transformation, and digital solutions

Bill Schaninger

Designs and manages large-scale organizational transformations, strengthening business performance through enhanced culture, values, leadership, and talent systems

Research shows that when people view their work as meaningful, their performance and job attitudes improve significantly. Previously, we proposed a strategy that leaders can use to create meaningful work: making the connection to and highlighting the impact their work has on society, customers, the company, team, and individuals’ personal success—otherwise known as the five sources of meaning.

Knowing about the five sources of meaning is a great start, but the real magic occurs when leaders begin to embed them into how the work gets done. There are three steps leaders can take to start integrating the five sources this week:

  1. Determine what matters most. Start a dialogue with your team to understand what sources resonate most. This can be done during one-on-one check-ins or as a group exercise during a team meeting.
  2. Hardwire meaning into day-to-day work. Once you know what sources of meaning resonate most for your team, find small ways to hardwire them into existing activities and communications. Perhaps it’s adding an “impact story” or recognition to the start of a meeting, encouraging team members to lead meetings and complete work autonomously, or sharing customer feedback in a weekly recap email.
  3. Create connections. A common thread across the five sources is the impact of the work on others. Providing opportunities for your team to assist, mentor, support, or simply spend time with customers, other teams, members of the community, and one another is key to providing a touchpoint for meaningful experiences—particularly as the workforce returns from remote work.

There’s no shortage of inspiration in how other companies put the five sources of meaning into practice. Many organizations have found creative and bold ways to integrate the five sources of meaning into their communications, talent processes, and day-to-day activities.

Impact on society

  • One CEO empowers his organization to make a positive impact on society by donating to a charity of employees’ choosing if its annual engagement survey reaches a certain participation rate.
  • At a professional services company, every employee receives a monthly email that highlights how the organization is serving the community.

Impact on customers

  • One organization makes sure that every employee has at least one customer interaction a year—regardless of role or level.
  • A technology company keeps one chair empty during meetings to represent the customer and their perspective.
  • Another company implemented a “customer minute,” starting every team huddle with a customer impact story.

Impact on the company

  • During a transformation, one CEO called a different employee every day to thank them for their contributions and highlight how their work contributed to the organization’s strategic goals.
  • One company held an online “Values Jam,” where they engaged 50,000+ employees in drafting the company’s values.

Impact on team

  • One organization hosts an annual “thank-a-thon,” where employees publicly recognize each other’s hard work and accomplishments using an online dashboard.
  • Another pays leaders of affinity groups (e.g., women’s network) a modest annual stipend to thank them for making their workplace more inclusive.

Impact on personal success

  • One organization kicks off each project with a discussion of team members’ personal and professional goals—and then structures the work to help achieve them.
  • Another technology company identifies high-potential individuals to “shadow” the CEO for a short rotation, attending all senior leadership meetings and receiving hands-on coaching.

Meaningful work is a critical driver of performance and an aspiration many hold for their job, but there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. By embedding the five sources of meaning into how the work gets done, leaders are better able to help create more meaningful work for each team member while also improving performance and loyalty.

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