It’s Not What You Do, But the Effect It Has

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Nov 1, 2016

How many times have you struck up a conversation by asking someone what they are doing at the moment or what they are working on, only to be given their title?

Whatever field we operate in, wouldn’t it be far better if we all started to describe what we are doing in terms of the impact our role has on real businesses or other people’s lives? Wouldn’t that be far more interesting and, by default, engaging?

Gallup engagementUnfortunately, only around a third of the US workforce is dialed into their work and pursue it with inspired presence and fulfillment. About half are functional in their roles, but candidly, are only there for the pay check at the end of the month. The rest are checked out and are, either idle or looking for the next thing to do while working against the interests of their colleagues.

Three brick layers

Many years ago, a church burned down and the community came together to rebuild it. As the church was being erected, the priest went to the site to inspect the work. Three bricklayers had begun constructing the walls, and the church was slowly rising from the ashes.

The priest came across the first bricklayer who was half asleep, leaning against a pile of bricks. Startled, the bricklayer got back to work, but he moved sluggishly, dropping the bricks as much as laying them down. The wall he was working on rose only a few feet off the ground and when the priest asked the man what he was doing, he shrugged and said, “Laying bricks.”

The priest walked a bit further before meeting another bricklayer who was working on a half-formed wall. The priest asked him what he was doing, and the man paused for a second before saying, “Well, I’m building a wall.” The man didn’t seem particularly happy, but he worked steadily.

The priest moved on to the third bricklayer. The man moved quickly and confidently. The bricklayer was working so hard the priest simply stood and watched before the bricklayer noticed him and said, “Hello priest. “Hell,o” said the priest, then asked him what he was doing. The man smiled and said, “Why, I’m building a church to the Almighty.”

What makes the difference? 

Three people all doing the same job, and yet the satisfaction each drew from their work varied immensely. Think about it. The actual work, laying bricks, was the same in each case. Yet the first man barely worked at all, while the second man did just the bare minimum needed to get by. The third man, however, worked harder, more efficiently, and found far more fulfillment in his work.

What made the difference? Their sense of purpose. The first two bricklayers were singularly focused on their task because it was their job. The last bricklayer, however, connected his work with a greater purpose and mission. This greater perspective made his work more enjoyable and meaningful. It gave him more hustle – more drive. All because he had perspective of the big picture.

Which bricklayer are you?

Which bricklayer are you? It’s tempting to say that you’re building churches, pursuing a greater purpose and calling in life, but are you really?

Sometimes, purpose and fulfillment are simply a matter of perspective. To bring this topic to life, I’d like to share an experience with one of our clients.

Rafael, a technology consulting executive, found himself 30 years into his career, asking questions about whether he was in the right place or pursuing the right things.

On one of his key government projects, Rafael had to manage the conversion project to set up new accounts in new systems, and ensure they hit a go-live date on time. Heavily involved in leading software and technical deployments, it was easy for Rafael to miss the forest for the trees given the demand of the work, the critical deadlines and the level of client engagement required to keep his project on track.

Rafael’s issue wasn’t technology, since he genuinely loved using technology to accomplish specific goals and tasks. Yet his relationship and work with government was wearing him down. Far too often it was politics as usual, and at the end of long days, he found himself out of touch and weary of the grind.

What Raphael learned

One day he found himself out of the office and on assignment. For a single day, he pretended to be a social services case worker to learn more about the processes they go through. He was hoping to discover potential technological solutions. When he arrived at the social services center, he was shocked to see a line of people snaking out the door. Countless people were there for such services as replacing their electronic benefits card or making an application.

Talking with case workers, he realized he was just beginning to grasp the problem. Far too often, case workers saw their job as merely transactional, rarely able to service them and help them solve their problems.

Stepping back, and looking at the technological solutions he was going to help create, Rafael realized that he wasn’t “just” a technology executive. He wasn’t only focused on conversion programs that set up accounts correctly in new systems or hitting a go-live date on time. He was helping to produce solutions that could potentially make a dramatic impact directly on peoples’ lives and ensure our government’s spending is well managed. The right technology solution could not only ensure that those in need were receiving their benefits, but could also help reduce the caseload on caseworkers, allowing them to develop more meaningful relationships with their clients.

It’s the impact

It helps to frame up your work, not just through tasks, but through its impact. When you’re asked what you’re working on, don’t just say, “I’m a software developer,” say, “I’m implementing technology that will ensure that constituents receive the right social services and improve their lives.”

Speak through the lens of the impact of the work or its business case. For some, the fulfillment created by this shift in perspective makes a world of difference in engagement and mental state of being.