Meaning Creates Performance. Leaders Create Meaning.

Early in my career, I learned how to manage by leading teams that weren’t meeting management expectations — turnarounds.

Today, I leverage general management expertise gained in turnarounds to work with leaders as they improve performance in their firms.

Case A:  Superstars in a financial company had been hand-picked for an opportunity to launch a major client’s new product.  When I joined to lead the team, they were being pounded by explosive growth, well beyond any forecast.

The team leaders were exhausted and demoralized.  Every day they came in and “did their jobs,” even though the jobs had been designed under now-obsolete assumptions.  Having taken on new tasks as they arose, some managers were in the office 7 days a week, balancing multiple spinning plates on poles.

Case B: Janice owned a day spa.  Originally hired for a customer service role, Danielle was a bright self-starter who had never managed, until Janice promoted her to General Manager.

Months later, Janice told me, “We pay Danielle a lot of money.”  As we walked around the spa, she indicated areas that weren’t clean to her satisfaction.  In her office, she produced a thick file of accounting paperwork, red ink circling errors that Janice had corrected herself. “Danielle’s not doing a good job.”

Danielle knew her job:  serving clients, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Folding towels properly, getting the math right?  Janice’s expectations were unreasonable.

She was dejected by Janice’s perception.

My team leaders knew what their jobs were:  their jobs just didn’t make sense under new circumstances.  Janice and Danielle both knew what Danielle’s job was:  they just didn’t agree.

In companies large and small, unhappy teams are unhappy in the same way: people don’t know what their jobs are.  (Apologies to Tolstoy.)

The spa was a Mom & Pop business, maybe 25 people. The financial services team had about 80 employees; product delivery involved hundreds in a global firm with tens of thousands of employees.

Despite disparate conditions, there was one solution:  create meaning.

Leaders create meaning by drawing boundaries around people’s jobs in the context of greater goals, and being clear about how success is measured.

Does the word “boundaries” bring up resistance?  I’ve heard it.

You’re creatives; boundaries are bureaucratic.  You’re an entrepreneur; the trappings of “corporate” structure don’t serve.   People know what their jobs are:  it’s common sense!

Are your employees meeting management’s expectations?   How did you achieve that?

Curious?  Join me for Managing for Managers.  Via private blog, conference calls, and your questions about real challenges, I’ll show you how to map out ways that you can create meaning in any workplace.  Click to register.

(Photo by lissalou66, used under Creative Commons license.   Mini-case studies are real, with identifying details changed.)