This I believe

“It’s what I do, not who I am.”

Did you ever say that? Or hear someone else say it? If you did, it’s because something’s wrong at work. Or, rather, with work.

Too many jobs are about filling roles in systems and processes whose purposes aren’t fully understood. Too many people have lost their personal, human connections at – and with – work. 

In “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Matthew Crawford writes that the modern employee isn’t a whole person: 

“There is a disconnect between his work life and his leisure life; in the one he accumulates money and in the other he accumulates psychic nourishment. Each part depends on and enables the other, but does so in the manner of a transaction between sub-selves rather than as the intelligibly linked parts of a coherent life.”

Work doesn’t have to be that way. And you don’t have to be a motorcycle mechanic or have a 4-hour work week for things to be different. 

I have hope – and I have evidence – that work is changing.  

This blog

I want to chronicle this change. I see and feel it happening where I work. And I see and feel it happening at the companies I deal with. I want to tell the stories of what’s possible and accelerate the change. 

In 1951, Edward R. Murrow introduced “the personal philosophies of thoughtful men and women in all walks of life…the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives.”

Here are mine.

10 things I believe about work

  1. I believe that autonomy, mastery, purpose, and community are fundamental human motivators. (Daniel Pink writes of the first three in “Drive.”) We are hardwired to want control over the work we do and to get better at it. To do it for a good reason and with people we connect with.
  2. I believe any job that appeals to these motivators can be fulfilling.
  3. I believe the essence of good management – of leadership – is to make jobs fulfilling. That this is the best way, by far, to increase productivity.
  4. I believe most of what we actually call management and leadership is distributing information, distributing work, and reviewing employees – all of which can be done better with more open, on-line, social systems.
  5. I believe many management practices, particularly promotion and performance systems, are grossly flawed. Like an introductory physics class, they make assumptions that have no place in reality. They compare different people and roles despite the lack of objective criteria. They reduce people to numbers. Then they compound the errors by forcing numerical distributions on teams of all sizes. It’s absurd and de-humanizing.
  6. I believe social business platforms enable better management. They let everyone shape their own reputation through public contribution. That visibility, in turn, provides greater access to opportunities. Managers will no longer need to – or be able to – serve as patrons, arbiters, and gatekeepers.
  7. I believe communities of practice – groups of people in similar jobs who share learning and measurably advance their practice – are essential complements to traditional, hierarchical, organizations. And building them is an excellent way to introduce a workforce to the new ways of working.
  8. I believe Gallup was right in asserting that increased engagement at work boosts productivity. They said disengagement costs $300 billion in the US. I think they’re off by a factor of at least 3.
  9. I believe social business platforms can unleash even more value by fundamentally changing basic work practices and eliminating waste and inefficiency.
  10. I believe many people feel such changes are both necessary and possible but don’t know how to start. Few people know how to apply social tools and practices to change what people do every day.

This is why I feel the need to tell more stories of what’s working and not working. To help accelerate both the learning and the doing.

I fervently believe we have to change the work. For ourselves, our companies, and our collective future.


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
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19 Responses to This I believe

  1. ADAM MAYER says:

    It’s a collective; for the organization to adopt a creative culture, for the manager to allow the autonomy and to enable platforms to connect and promote the organizations knowledge workers.

    “When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.”

    And when that passion is sparked possibilities seem infinite!

  2. This I believe: you can and will change the world, John Stepper. #bow

  3. Congrats on the new blog John.

    I love the first post – keep it up!

  4. Eric Best says:

    These are laudable beliefs, and the question arises – how high up in your organization are these beliefs shared and acted upon? Presumably the evaluation systems that you find lacking have not translated some of these values into action where 360-degree feedback and compensation are concerned. I suspect this is not unique to your organization, and these areas are more likely to be flawed and “disconnected” the larger the organization is, and becomes.

  5. Pauline Ores says:

    Congratulations on the blog, and the great presentation this morning – loved the comment re: Sharepoint as a website, not.

  6. Wall Street Knowledge says:

    In my experience, people want money. Fulfillment in their jobs is of distinct secondary (or even tertiary) importance. We like to know we’re doing something important, we like to know we’re appreciated by our “clients” (internal or external) But as a Headhunter/Recruiter on Wall Street – people are motivated by money. No longer do firms command loyalty (because of lay offs or other inequalities among the levels (not getting a VP title when they deserve it due to limits (on Promotion per silo rules) — so people chase money. Plus it’s expensive to live in the Tri-state area and most people have children and have long commutes. So money is the prime motivator. And companies that pay base salaries and then eliminate bonuses capriciously (i.e. not due to the employees contributions, but because the “group” failed to make money usually do to some intrinsic business side problem, not and IT problem) will encourage highly skilled people to seek contractor roles. Which is again all about money. More people want money / need money (to pay high cost of living costs) than care about “fulfillment” on the job. One guy told me last week “I’m a consultant, I will do what I’m told”. He’s actually a contractor, but still — he doesn’t care what the job is – just pay him.

    • Wall Street Knowledge says:

      I have typos. “one promotion per silo” and the “group” failed to make money DUE to some intrinsic business side problem.

  7. John Stepper says:

    By all means, we need to pay people a good wage. (I certainly want one.) I just don’t expect it to do much for productivity or fulfillment beyond the very short-term.

    Rather, by tapping into natural motivators we can realize much larger gains in productivity AND make the jobs more fulfilling (and less subject to turnover).

    I like the quote from the consultant: “I do what I’m told.” Really? Is that the best we can expect from 21st century workers and 21st century management?

    We can do much better – and create management systems that are much better. And the emergent social tools and practices will be a part of it.

  8. Andrea says:

    Each salary increase and/or promotion is of course welcome and makes – and should make – you feel good. This is however mostly a short-term effect as a) your feelings towards your manager, colleagues and tasks will not change at all due to having more money on your bank account , b) it doesn’t give you necessarily more time for your family & friends, and c) the more money you have, the more you’ll probably spend. So I agree with you, John, that of course a decent compensation is something we can expect, but job fulfillment does mainly come from very different sources. At the moment, there seems to be a split in organizations: On the one hand, it’s all about competition, visibility, doing more in less time, etc. On the other hand, there seem to be more and more people who like to share knowledge & collaborate, let others “shine” and have a high focus on quality and customer service in their work. It will be exciting to see if it’s possible to find one’s own, personal path in this organizational world. I think I am just beginning to search for that path. Maybe that’s why I especially like your banner picture ?!
    [I hope my thoughts come across despite not being a native speaker ;-)]

  9. Chris says:

    It’s extraordinary how much of what passes for good practice at work actually dehumanises and damages. The only solution I have ever found effective is personal authenticity. Doesn’t always work, but I tend to sleep well at night.

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