Decoding the Workplace

We work in a time where our relationship with work is under intense scrutiny. Dismal employee engagement numbers for the last decade certainly intensify the need to look at what is not working in our relationship with work.

It’s for this reason I was interested in John Ballard’s Book, Decoding the Workplace. John

Ballard-Decoding the Workplace

explores keys that help any leader—formal or informal—navigate the complex needs of people and often competing needs of the organization. The tension between the two doesn’t have to be a recipe for misery, or disengagement. No. The tension presents opportunity to discover how to bring the two elements into sharp focus and find solutions that help both flourish.

I sat down with John and asked him a few questions to give you a flavor of his book and its important message.

You believe the workplace can be decoded to better understand people. How can a person decode the workplace to have a more fulfilling work experience?

There are many ways. It really depends on the person. There are big differences here. What a fulfilling workplace means to you may be totally different than what a fulfilling workplace means to someone else. My experience has been that many of us are just not aware of what is happening around us in the workplace. We are just too busy. But being more aware and having some understanding of workplace dynamics can often help people to be more fulfilled in their work. In Decoding the Workplace, I discuss concepts that can help.

For example, many times we simply do not understand how others perceive us. I tell a story about Gerald. Gerald was a great analyst. He helped others prepare for important presentations to the senior leaders in his company. But Gerald never got those opportunities. He read my key about trying to understand the impressions you create. He had never really thought about how he came across to others. So he asked his boss why he never got the big presentations. His boss replied, “I should have mentioned it to you sooner. You keep saying ‘uh’ all the time throughout your talks. It can be annoying.” Gerald never realized he had an “uh” problem. He fixed the problem, his boss noticed, and he got the important presentations. My expectation is that somewhere in Decoding the Workplace each reader will find one or more insights that will lead to more fulfilling workplace experiences.

You cite research that shows that managers who network with others are more successful compared to those who don’t. Why is this important for leaders today?

Right. I mention Fred Luthans’s work on effective versus successful managers. He found that managers who spent more time networking were more likely to get promoted. Networking is all about interacting with others, getting to know them, their getting to know you, finding common interests. When people find that they have things in common, they are more likely to help each other.

Networking has always been important but in the digital age it is even more critical. Social media makes it possible to develop effective networks not possible just a decade ago. Leaders get things done through others. Leaders with good networks are often more knowledgeable, better able to offer new opportunities and more aware of resources to help grow their people. Networking should be part of every leader’s DNA.

When people find that they have things in common, they are more likely to help each other.

How does meaning influence our work lives? What role do leaders play in meaning-making?

Meaning is at the heart of employee engagement and job satisfaction. Meaning comes from within us. We give meaning to our experiences at work and in life. Jobs that are challenging, jobs we are good at, jobs where we can see how our work is part of the big picture – here we are more likely to perceive our jobs as meaningful.

Leaders can do much to create a workplace where people are more likely to see their work as important or satisfying. As you say in The Optimistic Workplace, leaders impact the workplace climate. Leaders who try to grow their employees, develop positive relationships and nurture a healthy climate are more likely to have people who are engaged.

Meaning is at the heart of employee engagement and job satisfaction.

One of my favorite leadership techniques to help build meaning is beneficiary contact. Research by Adam Grant suggests that when employees see how their work affects people, they see their jobs as more meaningful, and performance increases. Imagine working on a product but never seeing people experiencing the benefits of that product. Imagine being so removed from a service, in the service chain, that you never see the impact of your work on the next person in the chain, much less the end user. Leaders can make sure employees have the opportunity, once or twice a year, to interact with customers or to talk with other employees whom their work affects. Incorporating beneficiary contact into jobs and activities contributes to a meaningful climate.

What would you say to leaders who don’t invest the time to learn what motivates each person on their team?

I would say you are far less effective as a leader than you could be. So your company rewards performance with tickets to a local professional sports team. Not everyone cares about that sport or the local team. If your span of control is 20 or less, you really should know your direct reports well enough to know what they really want out of the workplace. And remember, sometimes the most valued rewards are intrinsic. Simply telling others they did a “great job” could make their day.

You can find John’s book in our Switch & Shift bookstore here.


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Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

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