A Life Strategy Is As Essential As Business Strategy

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Nov 10, 2016

Realizing workforce potential is an urgent business topic today, yet while many ideas are offered, a sustainable framework remains elusive. Constant change is the new normal; building solutions for HR and organizational design, strategically, must be both simple and adaptive.

What defines a modern strategy for creating a highly-optimized workforce? To instill motivation, we need to start having the tough, but necessary, conversations that lead to true alignment for corporate success. A life strategy framework fosters authentic alignment by inspiring the real conversations and collaboration that build towards a stronger employee-employer relationship.

Ironically, employees are both the primary expenditure and primary resource in business. People strategy aims to increase workforce performance in support of an organization’s long-term goals. Fully understanding what motivates your employees, which starts with their values, is critical to increasing their performance. This process has been mostly complex, when it can be so simple.

We are intrinsically motivated

Business today is innovation-driven, not task-driven. The World Economic Forum’s report on The Future of Jobs states that the key skill sets needed to thrive in 2020 will be complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. The days of manufacturing output as the productivity measurement are gone, and along with them, motivators like job security and salary.

The efficacy of monetary incentives for increased productivity is declining. Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explains that monetary incentives are actually linked to poorer performance in roles that require conceptual or creative thinking. Can you think of an organization that bests the competition without conceptual and creative thinkers?

Dan Ariely, author of Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, says that what matters most to us when we are doing something is different than what we believe will matter when we are thinking about doing something. While we assume that extrinsic motivators will be effective before we perform a task, intrinsic motivators are what ultimately get the task done.

Google, a company famed for its analytical lens on People Ops, recently shared findings from a three-year data-driven investigation into the drivers of an effective team, revealing that executive — versus team — definitions of effectiveness are not aligned. Not surprisingly, executives care about results, while teams care about culture. Fostering a work culture of psychological safety is ultimately what holds it all together, where team members feel valued, connected to one another, and free to express ideas without fear of rejection or judgment.

Pink, Ariely and Google show us that primary employee motivators are mastery, autonomy, purpose, community, recognition, and psychological safety. Assuming a firm achieves executional mastery and effectively supports all of these intrinsic motivations, will it lead to 100% employee satisfaction and performance optimization? Unlikely. While these studies are useful generalizations, they are only rules of thumb. Each employee is a unique individual with unique needs. The best person to show you what they need is the individual himself. Uncovering what they need, while being able and willing to provide it, creates alignment.


The definition of alignment is the overlap between what the company needs (resources and capabilities) and is willing to provide (role, compensation, and benefits), with what the individual wants (role, compensation, and benefits) and is able to provide (skills and talents).

Like the intrinsic motivations listed above, alignment is an ideal. No approach involving people is foolproof. Still, imagine for a moment if firms only hired people who were truly motivated to perform the work, and if individuals only sought out firms that were aligned with their personal vision. We would evolve from forcing to fit round-ish pegs into round holes, to an empowering relationship where both sides are communicating with transparency and acting in harmony. This vision is only possible if both organization and individual want to have a clear understanding of what each other wants — and what they are realistically willing to give.

What do you want?

Though a simple question, it is difficult to answer. In a personal versus professional setting, most people don’t have a clear and truthful answer when asked about their life ambitions. This is confirmed by Dan Ariely’s finding that what we think we want is often not what we truly desire.

Firms, on the other hand, always have an answer ready: “I want this market analysis by next Tuesday,” or “We need to better understand what our customers want.” Creating value for customers and shareholders is the entire purpose of a business. Firms must have a clear idea of where they would like to be and a plan for how to get there. Why should life be any different?

Another finding from Google’s search for the perfect team is that understanding a concept provides the foundation for constructive conversations. Life strategy creates the same effect. Through a thorough analysis of who you are, why you are here, and what is important to you, you can build a future that actually provides what you need and want, both in and out of the workplace. Step two is having the courage to talk about it.

When an employee develops a life strategy, they have a starting point for honest conversations about maximizing potential. If an employee decides to leave after establishing their life strategy, then the firm and employee can part amicably with a clear understanding of what did not work. As an ambassador of alignment and transparency, the now former-employee can then pursue meaningful, fulfilling work with full confidence in their relationship with the new organization.

An immeasurable amount of energy, from some of the world’s greatest minds, has been placed on business strategy. Now, for all of us, we can leverage their genius to inform life strategy.

The primary struggle in the workforce is seeking meaning and purpose. Talking about life strategy will significantly support the boardroom, as more employees come to work with clarity, balance, and authentic motivation.

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