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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Why of Work

by Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Published by McGraw Hill, 2010, ISBN 978-0-07-173935-1



In this powerful new book, world-acclaimed leadership expert David Ulrich teams up with clinical psychologist Wendy Ulrich to explore the "why" of work--the common driving force behind every successful organization. Once you learn how to harness this force, you can:

MAKE MEANING in the workplace--to bring out the best in everyone.
CREATE VALUE for your employees, your customers, your company, and yourself.
BUILD HOPE for the future by building "the abundant organization."

The Ulrichs' unique step-by-step system combines proven professional techniques and sharp psychological insights to bring new meaning to our work and its impact on the world outside the workplace. Filled with revealing questionnaires, checklists, interviews, and case studies, it's all you need to fully engage your team in the most challenging times--and to create a renewed sense of purpose, a sustainable source of commitment, and an environment that encourages and supports outstanding performance.

My review

Anyone who has ever studied, managed or attended a conference on Human Resources knows Dave Ulrich. He is the undisputed guru of the Human Resources profession and has maintained a stream of impressive publications on HRM (Human Resources Management) over the years which have contributed to the evolution of the profession. The all-time classic, Human Resources Champions, established the model for the transformation of HR into an organizational asset rather than the dumping ground for office party administration and salary slips. It is therefore not surprising that every time Dave Ulrich issues a new book, I make sure I get one and read it.

This time, in this new book, Dave has produced an exceptional response to the question of what is it that motivates people to get up and go to work with a smile each day. This book aligns with many elements of what a Human Resources Manager should be considering in execution of his or her role, and delves into range of aspects of work and what makes people do it better. But wait! This shift in Dave's legendary HR writings was not accomplished alone. He joined up with his spouse, Wendy Ulrich, an accomplished psychologist in her own right, to produce this guide for HR people out there that are sincere about making a difference. Clearly, a woman's touch counts for something, and this book is full of stories anecdotes, emotions and soft-skills, as well as sharp analyses of what makes organizations successful and what makes people tick, or not, at work. Also, this book is positioned as a Human Resources / Business text, but it could just as well be found on the CSR shelf, as a core element of organizations that engage people at work is social responsibility, say the Ulrichs.

The Why of Work's first two chapters cover the case for "making meaning". Reminding us of Viktor Frankl's classic, "Man's Search for Meaning", Dave and Wendy confirm that "When we find meaning in our work, we find meaning in life", and go on to describe companies that are meaningful, providing both societal and cash value as "abundant organizations", reminiscent of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, another classic. Combining these two themes, the introductory sections of this book reinforce a simple logic: employees who find meaning at work are more competent, committed and contributing... this leads to increased customer commitment... which leads to better financial results. Leaders are not just decision-makers, they are "meaning-makers" in abundant organizations. The opposite of abundance is "deficit thinking" which, as you might imagine, has an immobilizing effect on people. The Why of Work provides a clear infrastructure for the creation of "abundant organizations" and proposes seven questions to help leaders drive the abundance agenda:

What am I known for? (Identity)
Where am I going? (Purpose and Motivation)
Whom do I travel with? (Relationships and Teamwork [th]at work)
How do I build a positive work environment? (Effective Work Culture or Setting)
What challenges interest me? (Personalized Contribution)
How do I respond to disposability and change? (Growth, Learning and Resilience)
What delights me? (Civility and Happiness)

The extent to which organizations can address these questions in their core cultures and through their meaning-making leadership will determine, ultimately, how successful they can be. A key element of an abundant organization is creating an organization aspiration that declares a socially responsible agenda and translates that agenda to individual action.

The Ulrichs' devote a chapter to each of these seven themes, providing illuminating commentary, frameworks for application, anecdotes and often data to prove their case. The final chapter talks to implications for executives and Human Resources professionals. The Ulrichs' say that making meaning for employees can be money making for shareholders. Ultimately, they write: "If employee meaning is a lead indicator of organization capabilities, financial results, customer service and community reputation, it should also be a key outcome of good HR work." This should be reflected in people practices, performance practices and organizational practices. Meaning, say Dave and Wendy, should be a real option for every worker who values it, and not just in not-for-profit organizations that have been its traditional province.

This is a welcome development and I have no doubt will create some ripples in HR circles. Dave and Wendy Ulrich cleverly move the agenda from engagement with primarily business focus around communication, remuneration and job content to a broader platform which encompasses the essence of the business beyond making money, and the aspirations of employees beyond earning a salary. I am reminded of Anita Roddick's classic line in her book, Business as Unusual, where she wrote: "We were looking for employees but people turned up instead". One of the most basic components of CSR in business is providing a route to serve the aspirations and expectations of employees as stakeholders, so that they in turn may be the organization's CSR ambassadors when interfacing with other stakeholders. A bedrock of embedded CSR culture is essential to this. I am hopeful that The Why of Work will instill a sense of meaning in HR Managers and encourage them to adapt HR Practices accordingly
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Contact me via on Twitter or via my website
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