“I hate waking up every morning and going to work”

“I hate waking up every morning and going to work. Can’t wait for the weekend to come.” At some point in time or another, am sure you’ve heard your friend or colleague say this to you.

Ever wondered why? …that terrible train ride? the mean Manager? a pathetic pay? Well you could be right, but I believe the real reason is that they have lost their purpose of work.

Do you, as a leader, help your employees find their true purpose of work? In their book “The Why of Work“, Dave and Wendy Ulrich ask “How do great leaders create, for themselves and others, a sense of abundance (meaning, purpose, hope, pleasure) that not only engages employees but also delivers value to customers, investors, and communities?”. That is exactly what we leaders ought to do every day.

Why is Purpose (or Meaning) so important?

Let me start with a story first (I love stories, by the way). A boy was walking along the woods one hot summer evening and he came across three workers at a construction site. All of them looked dirty and sweaty by the end of the day. The first worker looked very tired and dejected. The boy asked him what he was doing, and he replied “I am nailing these wooden planks”. The second worked had a tired and unhappy expression on his face. The boy asked the same question to him and his reply was “I am building a house”. The third worker, despite the summer heat, looked happy and was whistling a tune to himself. When asked what he was doing, he cheerfully replied “I am building a home for a family”.

No matter what your job, it is there for a reason. When you understand that reason – and how it makes the world a better place for someone else – you have figured out the meaning or purpose of your job. An individual who truly understands the purpose of her job will be happier and more engaged in her work. You add up each and every such ‘engaged employee’, and that’s when you get a great team, a great company. From the CEO to managers to employees, everyone will feel aligned to the common goal of the company… and your customers will feel that difference.


The 3.5 things you should NOT do as a Manager

Leaders should be meaning makers. As a leader you should set a direction that your team will aspire to follow. If you want your team to discover their purpose of work, avoid making the following mistakes.

1. Write a fluffy meaningless Mission Statement

Many companies come up with mission statements that are banal platitudes like “We shall deliver highest standards of professionalism to achieve sufficient profits”. Compare it with that of Southwest Airlines: “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”

Create a mission statement that differentiates your company from the rest, one that defines ‘what business your company wants to be in’, one that is meaningful to all stakeholders, and most importantly one that inspires and excites your team to wake up every morning and feel happy and proud to go to work.

2. Create hierarchies and titles that demotivate people

Hierarchies and reporting lines are important to ensure proper functioning and accountability. But if they create a culture gap, if people start to become demotivated because their job titles make them feel inferior to others, you are doing something totally wrong. As a leader you should develop a corporate culture that makes every employee feel important. I often reiterate and reassure my team that their job is as important to the company’s success as our CEO’s. Whether the person is a CXO, a janitor, a sales executive, a clerk, a manager, an accountant, you name it, every job is equally critical to the company’s success in its own way.

3. Set individual goals that do not align with organizational goals

Always connect your team members’ personal goals to the company goals. In an earlier blog post I mentioned how in my company we ask employees to list down what their target performance objectives should be, instead of Managers pushing these goals top-down. This is a great process where you, as a leader, can steer your team’s KPIs as well as their motivation and drive in the same direction as your company’s overall objectives. In this process the Manager is just a facilitator, helping her team take individual ownership by reflecting on the core purpose of their own respective jobs.

3.5 Ask the “What” question instead of “Why”

Very often we tell our team what to do. We make project plans, WBS, PDCA cycles, action items with owners and deadline assignments, etc. These are  all the “whats”. How often do we tell them the “whys” or ask them the “why” questions? If you sense one of your employees appears disengaged, have an open conversation with her. Instead of asking what are her current activities, ask her “why are you doing these”? With this “why” question you can allow her to explain, in her own terms, the following:

  • What purpose does my work serve?
  • Who will experience the results of my work?
  • What value will my work bring to them? and,
  • If I accomplish my work, what positive effect will it have on them?


Most people want to know their work means something positive to someone eventually. But they are often left clueless because their leaders don’t take ownership to help them in that process. Follow the above 3.5 steps, start helping your team today. Turn them into a truly engaged team by making them realize they are not simply nailing boards, but building a dream home for a happy family.



Every manager is an HR manager.

“Every manager is an HR manager.”

When I was in Hong Kong last week, I saw this adage in a presentation by our regional HR Lead. I must’ve seen it a hundred times in my career. But this time I decided to meditate on it because it dawned on me that when the times are tough, when the economy is taking a roller coaster ride, when you are in an industry where margins for error are as thin as a strand of hair, when your competition unleashes a war on you with price as their prime weapon, the morale of your team goes south… and then this statement starts to make a lot more sense to all of us managers.

They say “Performance = Ability x Motivation x Opportunity” 

As managers we are all responsible for the performance of our teams. It is our job to recruit the right talent, and then lead, facilitate, motivate and develop them. But is that the reality?

Are we doing it all right?

More often than not, our interviews assess people on their Abilities. We build up tons of training programs and resources to further sharpen their aptitude and technical/functional competences. But how seriously do we assess them on their Motivation levels? Do we ensure that they feel valued, involved, engaged and committed, once they join our organization? And how often do we create the right Opportunities for them to perform, to develop, to grow into leaders of tomorrow?

What we often see is companies placing their people in 9-block grids or on bell curves to run statistical analyses. Employees are told they are the most valuable assets, and then treated like a liability. And if they did not perform, managers chart out action plans for them without taking time to validate the most important thing:  were they motivated enough to perform in the first place?

It is often said that employees don’t leave organizations, they leave people. I believe that. Employees leave their managers (or their management) most of the time. Am sure we have all read the stats that attrition costs the typical company 125% of the employee’s salary. We can all argue what is the right figure, but the point is loud and clear: If we keep our teams motivated and give them the right relevant opportunities to grow, they will perform to their best of abilities. But if we fail to do so, it will cost us dearly.

1) Get to the root cause of poor performance

As the Chinese proverb goes, “For every hundred men hacking away at the branches of a diseased tree, only one will bend down to inspect the roots.”

Before you can fix performance issues, diagnose it. Is it really due to the employee’s lack of Ability? Or was there a lack of Motivation? It is very easy to establish whether Ability was the factor. Ask questions like the following ones to yourself and your peers:

  • Was the task overly difficult, to begin with?
  • Can you spot individual aptitude, knowledge or skill lacking?
  • Do you see a lack of improvement over time, despite putting the person on trainings etc.?

If you feel any of the above are true, perhaps these people have been poorly matched to their jobs. Or they might have been promoted recently to a position that is too demanding in terms of skill set. You can then apply the following approaches to fix such issues.
a) Listen to the employee’s frustration points and offer help with renewed set of resources. Ask them what additional resources they might need to complete the tasks effectively. This is how you establish with them that you are willing to listen to their problems and here to provide support.
b) Provide training. In today’s world it is very easy to get outdated with trends and technologies and developments. So putting the employee through a focused training program often helps quickly resolve the aptitude and skill gaps.
c) Job rotation or re-assignment. If the employee is a great asset and her job allocation was poorly done upon hire, you can still keep her in the company by re-assigning her to a different team/job where her true skills will be beneficial to you. For example, a marketing executive could be re-allocated to your sales team if you find that her skills are a better fit there.

If the above three do not apply, you might have to let the person go. But in order to decide that, you need to ask yourself the following very important questions:

Was the employee Motivated?
Was I being fair to her as a manager, and did I offer her the right Opportunities?

2) Improve your team’s motivation

If you did the root cause analysis diligently and established that employee Ability was not the cause of poor performance, it’s gotta be a Motivation issue. As a manager it is your responsibility to create a motivating environment for your team to work. This is not a task of HR department alone. How can you do it?

a) Evaluate your organization’s motivation level
A brief survey, an occasional informal discussion with randomly selected employees, a chat at the water cooler or pantry, it really doesn’t matter what mode of “listening” you employ, the most important thing is that you listen to your team. Diligently. And genuinely.
b) Work closely with your employees and create a motivating work environment
You can help create the right motivation levels by jointly setting performance goals with the employee, regularly (and genuinely) assessing performance, and creating provisions for performance feedback.

Performance management

In my current job we let the employees present to their managers what they believe their goals for the next year are. This opens up a great positive dialogue between the employee and the manager, and also garners the ownership (and hence the right motivation) from the employee throughout the year. Your HR leader can help you with tools for SMART goal setting, should you wish to formalize the process. Locke’s goal-setting tool is one widely practiced process, you can refer to here.

Performance feedback is the most critical among all. Do it in a timely fashion, be accurate, open and honest, and create an environment that acknowledges the successes of employees.

Rewards and recognition

Rewards and recognition play a very important role especially when the times are tough and if your company is going through a downturn. This can create unprecedented upswings in motivation levels of your employees. I have seen businesses turn around in amazing fashion by the act of a single leader who kept the team motivated and recognized the great efforts by the team. It is also important to remember that rewards and recognition need not always be monetary in nature. If you clearly understand what motivates your team, you can link your recognition and rewards to it.


Team motivation can also be improved by improving communication. In one of my previous companies we used to have regular town-hall meetings, informal lunch gatherings (we were a few hundred employees) with lunch buffet served at the premises, functional team outings, team building exercises, etc. And we built one of the fastest growing profitable businesses in an industry notorious for low profits. As business managers, every time we returned from customer visits around the globe we would set up sharing sessions with the whole team – engineers, software developers, product testers, everyone. This was the best way to share with the team how our strategy and execution were going hand-in-hand. And that motivated our team to ruthlessly steal market share from our competition.

3) Create Opportunities for everyone

If your team believes that you are facilitating opportunities – both in their day-to-day work, and for their future career development – they will perform at their peak.

Here is what worked for me in the early years of my career:

My manager asked me to draw up my career road map. He wanted me to project on a timeline what I wished to do 10 years out. With that goal in view, he then asked me to work back on my 5-year plan, and then a 3-year plan. I was asked to further divide the 3-year plan into half-yearly and quarterly plans. Now that started to get very interesting as I immediately saw Ability gaps in my plan that would prevent me from achieving my 5-year and 10-year goals. Then he had my HR manager work with me on a training program and leadership development program that would help me become who I wanted to be in the next 3 and 5 years.

He didn’t leave my career progression in the hands of HR. He then personally put me up on a leadership development assignment in Dubai, coached me meticulously, and then gave me an added senior role in a Joint Venture business unit within the company. He constantly challenged me to take on responsibilities above and beyond what I thought I could do. He diligently created growth opportunities for me. And 10 years down the line, I am doing more than what I had charted out in that road map back in 2003.


Managers, my message to you is simple. Create opportunities for your teams to perform, and to grow. Opportunities trigger Motivation. And Motivation sparks the team to pull our their best Abilities… and that’s how they Perform. Now you see how they are all interconnected.

In all of the above areas your HR leaders will play an active role along with you. However we, as managers, need to take the lead and drive the organization forward. Our teams are our responsibility, and their well being and career progression are our duty. It is our task to facilitate their performance and help them develop into next generation leaders. Those who rely on HR managers to do this task are not worthy of being called a manager, because every manager IS, and should be, an HR manager.