The script of our inner theatre is determined by our responses to motivational need systems such as attachment/affiliation and exploration/assertion. In other words, those need systems create a subjective reality that guides each of us through life, shaping our outlook on the world. In order for individuals to be healthy, that subjective reality needs to be congruent with objective reality. This “match” between subjective and social worlds creates a sense of authenticity and constancy in the individual. Organisations hoping to foster an environment in which people feel really alive must keep this sort of congruence in mind.
Work holds an important place in humankind’s search for meaning. Because meaningful activity at work can contribute to a sense of significance and orientation, work offers a way to transcend personal concerns. In addition, it helps to create a sense of continuity.
Leaving a legacy through work is an affirmation of one’s sense of self and identity and thus serves as an important form of narcissistic gratification. Given the importance of basic human motivational needs, organisational leadership has the responsibility to institute collective systems of meaning - a responsibility that is greater than ever in these times of discontinuity. The challenge these leaders face is to recognise humankind’s search for meaning and create circumstances that allow people to do tasks in the workplace that are experienced as consequential. Subjective experiences and actions need to be made meaningful. This challenge requires that work be done in ways that make sense to the employees, leading to congruence between personal and collective objectives. Facilitating congruence between the inner and outer worlds of employees will contribute to individual and organisational health.
Searching for congruence So how can ways to meet the motivational needs that underlie humankind’s search for meaning be integrated into organisational life? What can organisational leaders do to make workers’ existence in their organisations more meaningful? In this age of discontinuity, what can be done to minimize the negative side effects of work?
An answer to this conundrum can be found if we once more look at Fortune’s list of “best companies to work for”. An in-depth content analysis of these companies reveals that they are steeped in a number of values that are then also translated into specific forms of behaviour - values such as trust, fun, candour, empowerment, respect for the individual, fairness, teamwork, entrepreneurship/innovation, customer orientation, accountability, continuous learning, and openness to change. Although these values, and the practices associated with them, go a long way toward explaining the success of many of Fortune’s vibrant organisations, they alone cannot bring about exceptional performance. Additional conditions are necessary for getting the best out of people.
As part of the needs-addressing process, leaders of exemplary organisations must create a sense of purpose for their people. Senior executives must create and articulate a vision of an ideal future state - a vision fleshed out with vivid description of the organisation’s fundamental purpose and culture, its values and beliefs. This description of the organisation’s future - if imbued with sufficient meaning - will have connecting value and thus contribute to a group identity. This step addresses workers’ attachment/affiliation motivational need system.
To address workers’ exploration/assertion motivational need system, organisational leadership must create conditions that foster a sense of competence. This goal is reached when organisational participants have a feeling of ongoing personal growth and development. To prevent stagnation, continuous learning is essential. On-the-job growth and development offer a strategy for reaffirming the self and preserving personal equilibrium. When the exploration/assertion motivational need system is blocked, frustration increases and creative action dissipate.
In addition, organisational leadership needs to create a greater sense of self-determinationamong employees. For the sake of organisational mental health, it is essential thatemployees have a feeling of control over their lives. Conditions should be createdwhereby employees see themselves not as mere peons in the larger scheme of things butas capable masters of their own lives.
Simultaneously, leadership must create a sense of impactamong the employees. In other words, each organisational member must be convinced that his or her actions make a difference, affecting organisational performance. Believing that each member of the organisation has a voice is what empowerment is all about. »