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Want People to Work? Set Them Free

Posted by Tom Miller

Feb 12, 2016 12:33:41 PM

Our friend Tom Miller posted this great essay about what motivates employees. He urges us to look at volunteerism as the model.


Why do people work?

The simple answer: to earn a living.

While earning a living is an admirable goal, it leaves out a few aspects that go well beyond just working for a paycheck.

Peter Drucker identified what he termed “knowledge workers” as the workforce of the future. And, to reap the largest benefit from these knowledge workers, Drucker postulates that companies should treat these knowledge workers not as employees, but rather as “volunteers for a cause.”

Think about it. A volunteer for a cause. Because today’s employees are using their brain to do the heavy lifting. And, culturally speaking, these “brainiacs” are a new and rare breed that feeds on creativity and collaboration. You might think this refers strictly to Millennials, but that would be far from the reality.

Today, anyone who volunteers to an organization lends them their brain…including their creative passion and collaborative resources necessary to solve the world’s increasingly complex, wicked problems. Age is not the barrier. Engagement is the true spirit of the knowledge worker. For one example, let’s use the terrible contaminated lead-in-the-water issue in Flint, Michigan. A professor at a Virginia university and a half-dozen students, all studying environmental science, volunteered to team up to address the problem; and thanks to their diligence, they advocated for an immediate stop to drinking contaminated Flint River water. And won.

What is the more compelling proposition: to come to work from 9-to-5, and punch the clock on your way in and out of the “job.” Or, devote the time, enthusiasm, creativity, passion and commitment to truly make a difference. To be a willing, committed volunteer to a cause. Wherever you see people band together, working with deep passion, thinking, sharing ideas, testing theories, developing the algorithms that lead to breakthroughs in spite of the many breakdowns along the way.

These people require a new concept for what they do, because it is so very different from thinking 9-to-5. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia summed it up in his book: “Let My People Go Surfing.” (A good read, if you’re interested.) His idea of work centered around a holistic approach that combined work and life balance. This doesn’t mean that you should move to the ocean and buy surfboards for everyone in your company. But rather, loosen some of the constraints. Put people into creative environments where they can freely share ideas; develop new avenues of exploration; test and fail; learn from the team; be collaborative.

Knowledge workers expect to create their environments, both at home and in their profession. When they have the tools and the space to let loose, it may surprise the management team on how productive and engaged these knowledge workers of all ages can be.

Here's a LINK to Tom's original article.


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