The Search For Significance

Bill Bispeck
6 min readSep 5, 2023

What really drives team member engagement?

Show Me the Money!

Have you ever been asked by your CEO to prove with scientific evidence, as opposed to feel good concepts and theories, that employee attitudes, work environment, culture or climate have a direct impact on corporate profits? Well, an interesting article relating employee perceptions directly to bottom line business results came to my attention. The Gallup Corporation article written by Curt Coffman and Jim Harter, Ph.D. goes into detail regarding twelve key areas of employee attitudes and how their studies of a wide variety of corporations proves that employee perceptions correlate strongly with productivity, profits, turnover and customer satisfaction. (See reference and link at the end of this article.)

The article concludes after studying 2500 organizations in 12 industries that, “The data clearly show that within successful business units employees have clear expectations, close relationships, can see how what they do relates to ‘something significant,’ and have an ongoing opportunity to contribute to that ‘something significant’ while learning and growing as individuals.” The data demonstrates that Productivity and Profits are 50% and 44% higher, respectively for top quartile (in employee attitudes) companies as compared to bottom quartile.

Would You Like to Go Bowling With Me?

The “something significant” phrase caught my attention and reminded me of a story I heard told at a conference several years ago. The story goes like this:

Let’s say you visit me in my home town and in the evening for recreation I suggest we go bowling. Not wanting to be impolite, you graciously agree to accompany me to the bowling alley in our little town. We walk inside and arrange with the clerk at the front desk to rent shoes and bowling balls. He assigns us to Lane number 8.

A unique experience to say the least!

We subsequently march down a narrow corridor to a door marked with the number 8. I open the door and we walk inside to see a single bowling lane with walls on either side. Down at the end of the alley where the bowling pins would be, there is a large black curtain with slits in it. You think this is rather odd, and again not wanting to be impolite you don’t question this peculiar arrangement.

After putting on our bowling shoes, I proceed to pick up my bowling ball, and roll it down the alley. The ball goes through the black curtain and a “clunk – clunk” sound is heard from behind the curtain. I then motion to you that it is your turn.

You play along and proceed in the same fashion as I did, rolling your bowling ball down the alley through the black curtain. We go back and forth numerous times taking turns. After about an hour of this, I motion to you that we are done. We return our bowling balls and shoes to the front desk and leave.

Now what do you think you would say the next time I asked you to go bowling with me? You no doubt would find some polite way to say no.

What was missing in this experience? There was no feedback loop. There was no measurement. By not seeing the result of our efforts the whole game lost significance. No measurement, no feedback, no fun!

All too often we design our organizations in the same way. Our plant workers are rolling those 55 gallon drums or other containers down that plant process area, with no feedback regarding what happened after the fruit of their labor reached the customer. Was the customer satisfied? What did the customer use the product for? Did our team make any money? Did we win?

Human beings have psychological needs such as the need to learn and go on learning, to have a reasonable amount of decision making, or to have a minimal degree of social support. One critical psychological need is a need to be able to relate what we do or produce to the objectives of the company.

Leaders must satisfy this need in people for meaning or significance. If it is not designed into the workplace, then people adapt to meet their need for significance. Some will adapt constructively by satisfying that need by their life outside of work, through family activities and civic duties. Others will adapt to meet their needs in non-constructive ways, i.e., by disruptive behavior in the workplace. The lunchroom lawyers, the rumor mongers, the pot stirrers and the organizers find significance in these kinds of activities that are unrelated to mission attainment for the organization. The challenge for leaders is to create a compelling vision, and to inspire people to buy in to its significance and to give their commitment to the cause. The Gallup Organization article says that this change in employee attitudes results in top quartile profit performance.

On Target

Several years ago, I was involved with an organization that moved aggressively to implement quality improvement throughout the company.

Quality circles and statistical process control were tools used along with a culture change process that was patterned after Phil Crosby’s 14-Step quality improvement process. Crosby wrote a book called Quality is Free, which was widely popular at the time. At the facility were I was located, our leadership team delegated the fourteen steps, one or two to each leader, to champion the implementation. I distinctly remember volunteering to head up the Goal Setting step. This caused me to take a serious interest in the intricacies of goal setting. After all, to be a champion of something, you need to know a little about it.

During the course of my study of goal setting, I ran across a book written by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, called Psycho-Cybernetics. In his book, he theorized that our Creator provided within our human brains a servo-mechanism more marvelous and more wonderful than any electronic brain or guidance system ever dreamed of by man. He maintains that this mechanism operates by much the same basic principles as guidance systems in rockets, missiles or other programmable machines. It seems we humans each have a built-in goal seeking mechanism that guides our day to day actions to reach targets programmed deep in our minds. What’s more interesting is that this goal seeking mechanism operates at the subconscious level. Without consciously be aware, we find ourselves coming upon information, gravitating towards certain people and experiences, and taking actions that move us closer to our target or goal.

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Dr. Maltz came upon this awareness after studying plastic surgery patients, some of whose lives dramatically changed for the better after long term disfigurements were corrected, and some whose lives did not improved after successful surgery. He came to realize that the difference was in each person’s ultimate goal, their self-image. He writes, “When a facial disfigurement is corrected by plastic surgery, dramatic psychologic changes result only if there is a corresponding correction of the mutilated self-image.”This is pretty powerful stuff, especially the realization that goals are absorbed into and acted upon in the subconscious level of our mind. That is why goals setting is so important and why it is value added activity to establish, write down, and continually review goals, both in personal life and in business life.

Life is a gift from God. And we are His workmanship.

Live it on purpose, as He guides you, for His honor and glory!

REFERENCES:

  1. C. Coffman, J. Harter, Ph.D., A Hard Look at Soft Numbers, The relationship between employee perceptions and business outcomes, The Gallup Organization, Linking Attitudes to OutcomesMarch 1999.View at https://www.nova.edu/ie/ice/forms/a_hard_look_at_soft_numbers.pdf
  2. Maxwell Maltz, M.D., FICS, Psycho-Cybernetics, Random House, republished 2015.

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