What Lies Do You Believe About Work?

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Your Work Engagement

I bet there’s been a time or two in your work history, where you’ve shaken your head and thought or maybe even said, “What’s the purpose of spending time on creating annual goals? They’re not relevant one quarter into the new year.” How many times have you wished you were working for [fill in the market leader in your industry]? Maybe a few times over the course of your career you said to a trusted colleague, “This is a grind; I need to find a better work-life balance.” Statistics show that less than 20% of employees are fully engaged at work. What side do you live on? And what are you doing as a leader to move the needle for you and your team toward the side of full engagement?

Nines Lies About Work

I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham, who is a leading researcher of team performance. His book Nines Lies About Work, co-authored with Ashley Goodall, explains most all you knew to be true but didn’t have the data to prove it. What does Marcus mean by lies at work? These are the truths that companies buy into and operate by to manage people.

Why do they buy into the lies? Buckingham would have you believe it satisfies the organization’s need for control. There’s truth in that statement, but I also believe from my own personal history working in Corporate America that many employees, who laddered into the C-suite, got there by successfully navigating through the lies. They now suffer from faulty thinking, believing in the validity of the lies that worked for them but don’t for most. What they don’t fully appreciate is that operating under these lies pull the organization down by attaching a ball and chain to the employees’ ankles.

Based on decades of working in Fortune 1000 companies, I have my own personal favorite work lies but I’d like to share my top three favorite of Buckingham’s nine: (1) people care which company they work for, (2) the best companies cascade goals, and (3) work-life balance matters most.

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Lie: People Care Which Company They Work For

It’s true people are attracted to certain companies based on name, reputation, and supposed culture. I was certainly attracted to the big Exxon name as a chemical engineering graduating from college. Who wouldn’t want to work for one of the biggest chemical companies—Exxon Chemical—like I did? However, whether an employee stays will be less about the company and more about the opportunities to do their best and the team’s cohesion.

Teams are a home for people, and its only when we work on teams that our best is put to highest use and unlocks our highest potential. “Local team experiences have far more bearing on whether we stay in the tribe or leave it…” (p. 28). Teams matter more than the company. “Teams make work real; they ground us in the day-to-day…and, teams, paradoxically, make homes for individuals” (p.30). People care about what team they belong to and what they’re working on.

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Lie: The Best Companies Cascade Goals

Years ago, the typical annual performance review and goal-setting process had your supervisor ask you to write up how you did on your goals in the current year and create new ones for the upcoming year. These would roll-up the organizational ladder. Today, its more fashionable for leadership to first create theirs from the company goals and then cascade them down through each level of the organization. You see your boss’s goals and then create yours. Was that approach any more effective?

Did you feel like you were checking a box? Did you say your yourself, “I’ll let the dust settle and work on what’s truly important regardless of what’s written and approved.” Your assumption is that by the end of the year it won’t matter, because you’ll be able to rewrite your goals to reflect what you actually did.

We spend so much time on this process, and for what practical reason? There’s no data that supports that goals set from above stimulate greater productivity. In fact, “…evidence suggests that cascaded goals do the opposite: they limit performance. They slow your boat down” (p. 55). What’s a company to do, if it’s not cascading goals? “The best companies cascade meaning” (p. 62). People should not be told the what to do but the why, so they can be released to use their best gifts to perform on behalf of the company.

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Lie: Work-life Balance Matters Most

People crave work with meaning and purpose—bottom line—and yet research shows that “…only 16-17 percent of workers say they have a chance to play to their strengths every day” (p. 197). When this happens, our pay becomes the price that we accept for the inherent badness of work. Think of it as a bribe to grin and bear it.

Work doesn’t have to be categorized as work is bad, the rest of life is good, and we have to find a balance. Let’s get real: “neither you nor your life are in balance, nor will you ever be” (p. 188). Life is ever changing, not static.

What’s an employee to do? The common mantra is to do what you love. Actually, for most of us, it should be find love in what you do. Surveys from U.S. working populations show that “…72 percent of workers say, ‘I have the freedom to modify my role to fit my strengths better’” (p. 197). Over the course of my career in Corporate America, I convinced my employer no less than three times to create a specific position for me that allowed me to drive on my strengths and drive value to the company, all the while finding love in what I do.

If any of these intrigues you, make sure to pick up this book and learn of the other six lies.


Reference

Buckingham, M., and Goodall, A. (2019). Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

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