When the CEO isn’t enough

I was sitting in the audience as the divisional CEO delivered his talk to over 500 people. He was encouraging them to try new ways of working, to experiment more, connect across silos, and continuously learn. Not only would it be better for them as individuals, he told them, but the company needed this kind of culture and attitude. The enthusiasm was palpable.

Then he opened the floor to questions from the audience, and a hand went up.

“But what do I tell my manager?”

Fear and control

The employee's concern was understandable. Despite exhortations from top management, the new values posted on the walls, the cultural change program, it still didn’t feel safe to do things differently. Too many other people got into trouble doing that, so why take the risk?

Without a sense of psychological safety - "being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career" - most people will wait until a critical mass has changed behavior before making a change themselves.

How many people have to say “yes”?

After the question there was an awkward pause. The CEO replied that it was better in this case not to ask permission. "You should just do it,” he said, explaining that the personal benefits were worth the risk. 

The head of the Works Council was also there, and he pointed out that even in the most stringent environments, employees had times when they could choose for themselves what to do. “If your boss doesn’t like what you’re trying, do it on your lunch hour, or outside of work.” 

The audience didn’t seem satisfied. They wanted to do things differently, but they felt stuck. As happy as they were with visible support from top management, they knew the CEO wouldn’t be there if their boss doled out consequences.

The permission you’ve been waiting for

One way out of this conundrum is for you to take a series of small steps rather than a big leap. There’s plenty of research to show that even small changes to tasks, relationships, and perceptions can make you happier and more effective. (It’s call “job crafting” and you can read more about it here.)

You may have to experience it for yourself before you believe it, like my friend Stefan who, after 12 weeks in a WOL Circle, said this:

"I now realize there are things - tasks and interests - that bring me joy and satisfaction besides my original job but are still in a business context. I guess my next goal will be concerned with job crafting... ;-) " 

Every day you have some control over who you interact with and what you do. Every day you have complete control over how you interact with others and how you approach the work you need to do. 

You can choose to experiment in small ways at work, to learn and explore more, to relate to others with generosity and kindness, to actively look for purpose and meaning in what you do. You can be a leader in one of the most important ways possible - by example.

For that, the only person you’ll need permission from is you. 

 

“Perhaps if I liked my job more…”

I’ve been thinking about what she wrote since I got her message a few weeks ago. She had stumbled across an old blog post of mine from five years ago about "career insurance."

She had been working at a job she never really loved for a long time, and a recent lay-off left her wanting something more from work, something she could “feel at least a little passionate about.” She was interested in Working Out Loud, but some of the exercises seemed pointless to her given the state of her career. “Perhaps if I liked my job,” she wrote, “I would be more interested in becoming visible.”

I wanted to tell her that even in a job you don’t like, you have more control than you might imagine. Not only can you craft your tasks, relationships, and perceptions at work, but you can use your existing job as a platform for building new skills. She shouldn’t wait till she found a job she loved to Work Out Loud, she should Work Out Loud to find a job she loves.

In a post called, “If you want to discover something wonderful, try this” I described it as “purposeful discovery.”

“One of the major problems with identifying your true calling is that you’re aware of only a tiny fraction of the possibilities, and picking solely from what you already know is grossly limiting...
Fortunately, I found a much better way to guide your decision making that will lead you to more rewarding possibilities. That better way is purposeful discovery, a form of goal-oriented exploration. You start by choosing a goal you care about and then using the different elements of working out loud to build a network of relationships, get feedback, and learn about ways to improve and about other possibilities. The goal orients your activities, and as you get feedback and learn, you adapt your goal accordingly”

I encouraged her to join a Working Out Loud Circle with people from different locations and companies. The peer support would help her take a step in a way that felt safe and confidential. The contributions she would make would help her refine her sense of what she liked and didn’t like. Her growing network of deepening relationships would give her access to new ideas and opportunities.

I know it's hard to take a step when you're not feeling good about what your work, but I hope she does. If you wait for your job to be interesting before you take control of your career, you may wait for a very long time.

Put your cape on

“I think all of us are like eagles who have forgotten that we know how to fly.”

That’s a quote from Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun, author, and teacher. She was referring to the superpowers we all have, the ones most of us aren’t aware of, or aren't comfortable using.

“The teachings are reminding us of who we are and what we can do. They help us notice that we’re in a nest with a lot of old food and old diaries, excrement and stale air. From when we were very young we’ve had this longing to see those mountains in the distance and experience that big sky and the vast ocean, but somehow we got trapped in that nest, just because we forgot that we knew how to fly.”

This isn't about doctrines, but about opening up, becoming more aware of what you have to offer and what others have to offer you. But how do you begin?

Start where you are

What I most appreciate about Pema Chödrön’s work is how accessible and useful it is. We can take that same thinking, that same mindset, and apply it at work and throughout our life.

“Start where you are. This is very important. [The] practice is not about later, when you’ve got it all together and you’re this person you really respect…Just where you are - that’s the place to start.”

She encourages every bit of progress, viewing all the challenges and struggles as opportunities for learning. In Start Where You Are, she describes us as being trapped in a room of our own making.

“To get out of that room, you don’t drive up in a big machine and smash the whole thing to pieces. Rather, at your own speed, starting where you are, you begin to open the door and the windows. It’s a very gentle approach, one that acknowledges that you can gradually begin to open that door. You can also shut it as often as you need to - not with the desire to stay comfortable, but with the intention ultimately to gather more courage, more sense of humor, more basic curiosity about how to open that door, until you just leave it open …”

Put your cape on

For many of us, "starting where you are" means applying this thinking in an office surrounded by people and processes. You might think that's odd place to begin, but there’s some important research by Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, that shows how we have more control at work than we might think.

As part of her research, she interviewed people in a wide variety of jobs. She found that the individuals who were viewed by colleagues as both more effective and happier were those who "crafted" their jobs.  They took small steps to alter the tasks they did each day, to form and deepen relationships, to find a greater purpose in what they did. Even in mundane jobs like hospital maintenance, mopping floors and cleaning trash bins, some people found ways to do meaningful, even beautiful, things within their context of their work. They chose to do small acts of kindness, to relate to patients and their families, and to view their jobs as making it easier for people to recover.

The researchers asked one woman why she did these things that weren’t a part of her job description. “It’s not part of my job,” she said, “but it’s part of me.” That's tapping into your superpower. As Pema Chödrön described it, “You allow something in you to be nurtured.”

For the decades I worked in in big companies, I had a “longing to see those mountains in the distance and experience that big sky and the vast ocean.” But I stayed “trapped in that nest,” too afraid to venture far from what others did.

Now I know you have choices when it comes to how you do what you do. It may feel strange at first, to think about generosity and empathy at work, about deepening relationships, about fulfillment and meaning. Start where you are. Acknowledge that you have a superpower within you, and put your cape on. When you do, when you permit yourself to make choices that open your world, it can change how you relate to yourself, to people around you, and to the work that you do. It can change everything.

For a better career and life

The subtitle of Working Out Loud is “For a better career and life.”But what is better, exactly? Better is not an objective measure according to someone else’s standards. It simply means improving your career and life in a way you care about, a way that’s meaningful for you.

What does better mean for you?

What does better mean for you?

The book describes two ways to improve your odds of feeling better about work. One way is to change your approach to your current job, increasing your sense of control, learning, and relatedness so you tap into your intrinsic motivation or drive. Another way is to build a network that gives you access to other jobs - a different role, boss, company, or kind of work - where it might be easier for you to tap into your drive.

Changing your approach to your current job

In a paper titled, “Crafting a job: revisioning employees as active crafters of their work,” researchers interviewed people in a wide range of jobs including engineers, nurses, and restaurant staff. They found that even people in highly prescribed jobs could make changes that would fundamentally alter their view of what they did.

Job crafting changes the meaning of the work by changing job tasks or relationships in ways that allow employees to reframe the purpose of the job and experience the work differently. Psychological meaningfulness of work results when people feel worthwhile and valuable at work. Thus, any actions that employees take to alter their jobs in ways that increase feelings of purpose are likely change the meaning of the work. 

The nurse’s handbook, for example, might have very specific guidelines for how to do a certain procedure. But some nurses viewed themselves as patient advocates, taking extra time to inform and comfort patients and their families, and they felt better about their work as a result. The short-order cook who had to follow recipes felt better when he took extra steps to “create a product worthy of pride.” Computer engineers felt better when they offered help to colleagues.

While some people viewed their job as carrying out instructions, others proactively altered aspects of the job related to learning and how they interacted with people. Same jobs. Different approach. They crafted their jobs to tap into their own intrinsic motivators - competence, autonomy, and relatedness – and they felt better about work than those who didn’t.

Building a network that gives you access to other jobs

While you might be able to tap into your drive even in terrible conditions, it’s easier to do so in some environments than others. For example, some jobs might have more opportunities for learning or some companies might have a more nurturing, respectful culture. To increase your chances of moving to a better environment, you have to first discover those environments and then have some means of accessing them. The best way to do this is via other people.

In 1973, Mark Granovetter analyzed the flow of information through social networks, and “The Strength of Weak Ties” went on to become the most-cited paper in all of social science. The title was based on his assertion that people to whom we are weakly tied have different information than we normally receive because they move in different circles than our close ties. That information can be critical to us, and the example he used was finding jobs. He cited a range of studies showing that people find out about jobs through personal contacts more than any other method. Then he conducted a study of his own and found that information that led to people finding new jobs came via people they barely knew or via the contacts of those people. Though close friends and family might be more motivated to help you find a job, being able to access different information from weak ties was much more important. He noted how luck played a role in interacting with weak ties.

Chance meetings or mutual friends operated to reactivate such ties. It is remarkable that people receive crucial information from individuals whose very existence they have forgotten.

More than 33 years before Facebook was launched, Granovetter showed that having a larger, more diverse social network would improve your luck, increasing your knowledge about a broader set of possibilities and enhancing your ability to access them.

Making your own luck

Most people I speak with understand that building a certain kind of network can give themselves access to a much wider range of choices. They may even realize they can change their approach to their current job and feel better about it. But few people know how to change their approach or build their network, and so they leave their career and life to chance.

You can do better, and that’s why I wrote the book. I found that even a bad day at work can be transformed when I apply the elements of working out loud. The feeling of greater control, confidence, and connectedness, makes me feel better. In addition to that is the joy I get from discovering new people, ideas, and possibilities.

Once you experience what better means for you, it’s difficult to return to your old approach. As one person told me, “I could never go back.”

How to love your job (even if you hate it)

Punching the clock  (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS)When I asked her “What’s the best part of your job?” she looked at me wistfully and said “Nothing, really.” She was smart, young, and creative, but somehow her spark had gone out. She told me she didn’t want it to be that way but, given the environment she was in - the people around her and the way things were - she didn’t know how to feel better about work.

I tried to show her she had more control than she thought.

A Job, a Career, or a Calling?

It turns out that fulfillment and meaning at work aren’t correlated to our specific jobs as much as they’re correlated to how we approach our jobs and the conditions in which we do them. The job of a surgeon isn’t innately more or less fulfilling than the job of a factory worker. What matters more is their very subjective view of surgery and factory work and the environment in which they do it - the people, physical environment, systems, and processes.

To test this assertion, researchers surveyed people in a wide range of jobs to understand how they viewed their work. Did they think of their work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling? People with Jobs viewed work as being just about money and not an end in itself. Those with Careers had a deeper personal involvement with their work, marking their achievement through advancement. And those with Callings worked for the work itself and the fulfillment that came from doing it.

Surprisingly, people in the same roles (executive assistants, for example) were evenly split in viewing their work as a Job, Career, or Calling. Simply put, the way people related to their work “could not be reduced to demographic or occupational differences.” So it must be something else that makes us view similar roles so differently.

What makes you not hate work

That something else is whether we are intrinsically motivated to do the work. There's been a lot of research on why we do what we do and it all points to the same, basic truths, summarized succinctly here in this quote from Drive:

“...we have three innate psychological needs - competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy. When they’re thwarted, our motivation, productivity, and happiness plummet.”

Your drive - your motivation to do something and how you feel about doing it - is based on whether or not you’re meeting these needs. And that’s highly subjective and personal. Do you feel related to your company’s purpose or to the people that work there? Do you feel you’re getting better at what you do? That you’re in control? If the factory worker taps into this drive and the surgeon doesn’t, the factory worker will indeed find work more fulfilling.

Crafting your job

What the researchers Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton found is that, even in highly prescribed jobs, individuals can makes changes that can fundamentally alter their view of what they do. They called it “job crafting.”

“We use the term job crafting to capture the actions employees take to shape, mold, and redefine their jobs. Job crafters are individuals who actively compose both what their job is physically, by changing a job's task boundaries, what their job is cognitively, by changing the way they think about the relationships among job tasks, and what their job is relationally, by changing the interactions and relationships they have with others at work.”

They provided examples from a wide range of jobs. In each of them, workers tapped into “competence, autonomy, and relatedness” by proactively making changes that helped them develop skills and relationships. “Even in low-autonomy jobs, employees can create new domains for mastery and shape facets of job tasks to take control over some aspect of the work.”

  • Computer engineers who offered help to colleagues, either doing the work themselves or connecting them to people and resources they needed.
  • Nurses who viewed themselves as patient advocates, taking extra time to provide information to patients and their families.
  • Hospital cleaners who interacted more with patients, families, and staff.
  • Hairdressers who sought to know their clients better (and fire clients they didn’t like).
  • Restaurant cooks who took extra steps to “create a product worthy of pride.”

Imagine what you can do

Now imagine what you can do in your own job which may have even more freedom than the examples above. Even better, by working out loud - making your work visible and extending your network - you can amplify those feelings of control, learning, and connection while opening up possibilities for yet other kinds of work.

Yes, some jobs and some bosses are awful. And yes, work is different from pleasure. But you can create a more blended life, one that you find genuinely appealing and one that’s more fulfilling. It’s not just for those with certain skills, for the young, for the technology savvy, or for extroverts. It’s for everyone.

How to love your job (even if you hate it)

Punching the clock  (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS)When I asked her “What’s the best part of your job?” she looked at me wistfully and said “Nothing, really.” She was smart, young, and creative, but somehow her spark had gone out. She told me she didn’t want it to be that way but, given the environment she was in - the people around her and the way things were - she didn’t know how to feel better about work.

I tried to show her she had more control than she thought.

A Job, a Career, or a Calling?

It turns out that fulfillment and meaning at work aren’t correlated to our specific jobs as much as they’re correlated to how we approach our jobs and the conditions in which we do them. The job of a surgeon isn’t innately more or less fulfilling than the job of a factory worker. What matters more is their very subjective view of surgery and factory work and the environment in which they do it - the people, physical environment, systems, and processes.

To test this assertion, researchers surveyed people in a wide range of jobs to understand how they viewed their work. Did they think of their work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling? People with Jobs viewed work as being just about money and not an end in itself. Those with Careers had a deeper personal involvement with their work, marking their achievement through advancement. And those with Callings worked for the work itself and the fulfillment that came from doing it.

Surprisingly, people in the same roles (executive assistants, for example) were evenly split in viewing their work as a Job, Career, or Calling. Simply put, the way people related to their work “could not be reduced to demographic or occupational differences.” So it must be something else that makes us view similar roles so differently.

What makes you not hate work

That something else is whether we are intrinsically motivated to do the work. There's been a lot of research on why we do what we do and it all points to the same, basic truths, summarized succinctly here in this quote from Drive:

“...we have three innate psychological needs - competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy. When they’re thwarted, our motivation, productivity, and happiness plummet.”

Your drive - your motivation to do something and how you feel about doing it - is based on whether or not you’re meeting these needs. And that’s highly subjective and personal. Do you feel related to your company’s purpose or to the people that work there? Do you feel you’re getting better at what you do? That you’re in control? If the factory worker taps into this drive and the surgeon doesn’t, the factory worker will indeed find work more fulfilling.

Crafting your job

What the researchers Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton found is that, even in highly prescribed jobs, individuals can makes changes that can fundamentally alter their view of what they do. They called it “job crafting.”

“We use the term job crafting to capture the actions employees take to shape, mold, and redefine their jobs. Job crafters are individuals who actively compose both what their job is physically, by changing a job's task boundaries, what their job is cognitively, by changing the way they think about the relationships among job tasks, and what their job is relationally, by changing the interactions and relationships they have with others at work.”

They provided examples from a wide range of jobs. In each of them, workers tapped into “competence, autonomy, and relatedness” by proactively making changes that helped them develop skills and relationships. “Even in low-autonomy jobs, employees can create new domains for mastery and shape facets of job tasks to take control over some aspect of the work.”

  • Computer engineers who offered help to colleagues, either doing the work themselves or connecting them to people and resources they needed.
  • Nurses who viewed themselves as patient advocates, taking extra time to provide information to patients and their families.
  • Hospital cleaners who interacted more with patients, families, and staff.
  • Hairdressers who sought to know their clients better (and fire clients they didn’t like).
  • Restaurant cooks who took extra steps to “create a product worthy of pride.”

Imagine what you can do

Now imagine what you can do in your own job which may have even more freedom than the examples above. Even better, by working out loud - making your work visible and extending your network - you can amplify those feelings of control, learning, and connection while opening up possibilities for yet other kinds of work.

Yes, some jobs and some bosses are awful. And yes, work is different from pleasure. But you can create a more blended life, one that you find genuinely appealing and one that’s more fulfilling. It’s not just for those with certain skills, for the young, for the technology savvy, or for extroverts. It’s for everyone.