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  • Writer's pictureNanang Chalid

Meaning of Life, at work.

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

I enjoy reading Coelho's novels. One of his work that I would like to quote here is the insights from "Manuscript Found in Accra" (2013: Alfred A. Knopf) which I believe has its relevance with our current workplace challenges. One of the passages in the novel was talking about the plaguing 'sense of uselessness'.

If you are working in operating company (like 80% of workforce do), professional life's pace is fast. Most of line managers and leaders in operating company must deliver results: be it weekly sales, monthly market share, profitable financial plan, accounting accuracy, competitive supply chain cost, efficient work processes that lead to higher productivity or cheaper cost-to-serve, high quality products, regulatory compliance, or simply projects that needs to be delivered on time in full. Even function like HR, just like mine, must delivered hard-KPI of low attritions, fast time-to-hire, annual employee engagement score through surveys, etc. Most of us, who must delivered hard-KPI, occupy our days with to-do-list of actions, replying emails, making Gantt-charts, creating powerpoint slides, presenting, meetings, and making deals and decisions. The thing about spending ourselves in fast-pace actions is that we focus ourselves in the 'details' and the 'now', while forgetting the 'human side' of leadership.

Most of employees who work in operation do routines stuff, which makes a person feels that they are just 'a cog of running machines'. A cog, out of hundreds of other cogs, situation that I called "cogsy syndrome". This is where someone might feels that "I am no one. I am just another employee", which leads to feeling of disengagement, ignorance, and even victimised on many things. In accummulation, cogsy-syndrome leads to decline of engagement, leading to decline of performance.

If we as a leader of such organisation -- where employee feels that "I am no one, just another employee" -- don't do anything, we are not good enough. We must strive in making our workplace thriving, by ensuring that everyone in the company feels that they are important. Things they do, matters.

The key to do that is by ensuring every Manager/Leader continuously inspire and ignite this positive mindset. Coming back to Coelho, this is the passage from his novel that I would like to quote :

[start of the quote]

Younger people realize that the world is full of huge problems that they dream of solving, but no one is interested in their views. "You don't know what the world is really like." they are told. "Listen to your elders, and then you'll have a better idea of what to do".

Older people have gained experience and maturity, and have learned about life's difficulties the hard way, but when the moment comes for them to teach these things, no one is interested. "The world has changed," they are told. "You have to keep up to date and listen to the young ".

That feeling of uselessness is no respecter of age and never asks permission, but instead corrodes people souls, repeating over and over: "No one is interested in you; you are nothing. The world doesn't need your presence."

[end of quote]

Despite Coelho's novel talks in a non-workplace setting, I believe many of employees feels the same just like the scenes I have quoted above. And it is our role as Leaders, (and HR Business Partner to collaborate with them) to fight this by-default entropy of the-world-of-work. How to do that?

In a nutshell, here is practical things I did (and I also preach to you to do):

One, talk to your team. Not about work. Talk to them as a person, knows his/her life. Out of curiosity, and not 'faking' it just for the sake of doing it. Start with good intent that you want to understand your team member as a person.

Two, remind them on the bigger picture, whenever you ask them to do things for you. Give them the feeling of (what I called) being the "Ethan Hunt" of the team. Yes, I always imagining that main character of Mission Impossible franchise and paint that picture in my mind when I give someone's assignment: that only him/her can make the biggest impact to the whole project/overall scheme of things. And how his/her completion of a task will make him/her learn new things, or deepening his/her expertise on another things. Natural self-motivator doesn't need help to do this, they will ask the bigger picture themselves. But most of people will need it. If they feel that they are doing a mission to change/save the world just like the movie did, they will embrace the work with heart. And for Indonesians, as I have written in one of my blogs, engaging the heart first is the key to unlock his/her performance.

Three, recognize them for a job well done. Giving recognition for your team member can be challenging, as by nature, you yourself would like to get credits for successful milestones you have landed. As the leader of the team who spend a lot of time to make a plan and rallying people to deliver the success, you also thirst for recognition. Here is the truth: you are getting the same kudos whenever your team gets it, and not the other way around. So shut down your ego, give credits to your team members for all the job getting done. Not only you will be admired by people outside your team for being such chivalrous leader, but your team will also be very grateful for what you do and remember you as the one who made them who they are. It's that legacy of building leaders out of 'a team member' that will make you fulfilled as a Manager/Leader, which come back to the title of this blog, gives you that bonus of sense of Purpose, and getting that "Meaning of Life, at work"

My other blog talks about the importance of Purpose. It is for a deeper conversation. This article talks about practical tips you can still do as the 'first-aid' of curing the 'cogsy-syndrome'.

So, what do you waiting for. Go grab a coffee and talk to your team members.

Most of workforce feels they are just cogs of running machines. Making sure they are treated as a person (not just employee), remind them of the bigger picture, and giving them recognition is what makes a difference.

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