In a world that requires agile innovation, organizations are desperate to create cultures of ownership, shared responsibility and proactive initiative. Of all the steps we take as managers to be sure people will perform well in a job, the one with the furthest reaching impact is the most commonly overlooked: finding an employee's personal connection, or personal fit, to the work.
Ownership comes when it's mine. "Mine" comes when it's personal.
Organizational design, structure and strategy are critical considerations that can help or hinder a person's ability to take ownership. But even with these structural pieces in place, each employee has to personally engage for their work to come alive and make a difference in the organization. Without personal connection to the work, the reality of an engaged corporate culture never materializes.
A manager can help an employee make their work personal by considering if there is a clear connection between their job, what they do best and what they care about most. Even with the best credentials, without that connection you will not get the best from them.
Fit isn't a consideration exclusive to hiring -- it needs to be addressed regularly or it risks getting lost as change occurs (e.g., during a restructuring, a new project, introducing a new team member or manager, or simply as tenure increases over time). If you want to enable the very best from those you lead, then finding, focusing and adjusting for optimal fit should be a regular conversation.
Take the time to review with each of your team members what aspects of their work they take most personally. Discuss what matters to them; what do they care about and think makes a difference? Find the aspects of their work where they willingly take ownership, demonstrate proactivity, and offer innovation and improvement. Ask some of the following questions:
- What matters most to you in your life?
- What gets you excited?
- What frustrates you?
- Who do you want to make proud?
- Who do you owe your career, or what's good in your life, to?
- Who do you want to prove wrong?
- What do you want to be known for?
Use probing follow-up questions to dig for specifics. By getting specific, you can help employees see their personal fit. Without specifics, the conversation won't bring the ownership needed for the individual and organization to benefit.
Successful organizations strive to create an engaged, purpose-driven culture; therefore, zeroing in on personal fit is not just an issue of comfort or satisfaction, it's one of performance that can set your team apart from the rest. Consider the organizational benefits that come with each employee regularly reviewing and recommitting to what is personal to them about their work:
- Change: With change being the only constant, uncertainty the only certainty, clarity on your personal fit is essential to thriving in today's business environment. It is the process by which we internalize our own "why" of what's happening; a critical milestone in any successful change initiative for an organization.
- Purpose: Finding the overlap between what matters to employees and what they do best creates purpose for each individual that then can roll up into the purpose of the organization. Gallup research regarding the millennial generation clearly reveals purpose-driven organizations attract talent and customers alike. For an organization to be driven by purpose, every individual has to find their personal fit. The individual fit, added up over every employee, is how strategies like customer advocacy and bold mission come alive and are accomplished.
- Agility & Innovation: Empowerment is the essence of an agile, innovative culture. These characteristics don't happen without extra effort, almost by definition. But empowerment comes at a risk, amplified if those you offer it to don't act or think like owners. Who will give extra effort, but those who see and feel a personal stake in their work? Again, ownership comes when it's mine. Mine comes when it's personal.
In short, clues to fit come from experiences that elicit an emotional reaction. As human beings, emotion happens because we care, because it is personal. Identify these. Discuss these. Link these to the job. The more intense the emotion, the more personal it is.
Some are lucky enough to have so strong an emotional reaction to an issue that it becomes a passion and is in the forefront for them every day. The rest of us have to make a deliberate effort to see what matters to us at work, especially as things change and time moves on. For work to be more fulfilling and for each of us to make our organizations successful, we need to find and rediscover what we make personal in our jobs. Managers can help, and success in today's world depends on it.