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A Purpose Driven Life & the Meaning of Work

What does it mean to have a purpose driven life and what does this have to do with the meaning of work?
Good question!
When you get up in the morning and go to work, do you ever ask yourself why you do it?
Beyond a paycheck, why do you do what you do?
Does your job fill some greater purpose in your life?
Does it fulfill some particular life mission you have?
Do you even care?
Do people who have found their calling in life get more meaning from their work than people who work mainly to pay the bills?
Do people who grew up during the war years of the 40's think differently about work than the so-called Gen-Xers?

Ross Gilker
Vice President
& GM Toombs
KWA Calgary
I pose these questions because I think the answers say a lot about how we recruit, manage and motivate our employees. A lot has been written recently about the changing demographics of our Canadian workforce and what this means for present and future HR strategies. I would suggest that going back several hundred years we would find that the typical motivation for work was simple survival. As the industrial revolution emerged we saw the beginning of a middle class where money began to create choices for families. Carrying into the 1800s and 1900s work moved away from a labor focus to a knowledge focus. This in turn created the opportunity for employees to be much more mobile in pursuit of employment. As a result, much of our traditional thinking about why people work and what motivates them to stay in a job has changed.

While I believe that basic human nature doesn't change over time, our cultural changes do shape our views of work. Our need to be fulfilled, feel appreciated and earn enough to care for our families hasn't changed but our "employment contract" with our employers has. When we examine the economic, social and cultural issues of the time when we were growing up, we can identify the influences on behavior and hence the drivers for attracting and retaining employees.

For example, individuals growing up in the "dirty 30's" lived at a time when work was scarce, food had to be rationed and the thought of buying on credit never entered anyone's mind. Fast forward to the 1950's when these young people were now entering the work force. Because of the influences of their growing up years we see that most of these people stayed with one employer and often one job for their entire life because they were glad to have a job. Being loyal, saving their money, contributing to a pension plan were common career goals. They were influenced by growing up in a culture of "being thankful for what you have".

As HR professionals, we are a product of our upbringing and work in companies whom employ people of all manners of backgrounds, ages etc. We need to understand the cultural and economic influences of our current and future workforce and begin to be more creative in developing attraction and retention strategies that will get at the head and heart of the people we want working in our companies. A " job for life" that mattered to the 1930's born employee is not the employment contract that the 1980's born computer generation employee is looking for.

This thought begs to ask the following:

  • What are we doing to change our employment relationships?
  • How are we using time and time off as a retention strategy?
  • How are we creating "promotion" opportunities that move us across the organization not up the organization?

    These and many other issues will be critical as we look at attraction and retention strategies for different generational cohorts.

    What is your organization doing?
    You may contact Ross for more information at

    Ross Gilker and his senior partners across Canada will be featured
    presenters on the topic "Elvis, Bell-Bottoms, and DVDs: Your Guides to
    Attracting & Retaining Talent" at IPM Spring Conferences across Canada
    in May and June. For complete details, visit our website at, click on Events.

    Training Managers in Pay and Performance Systems
    The Role of the HR Business Partner

    Having undergone numerous evolutionary steps in the past several decades, today’s pay and performance systems find themselves juxtaposed between two possible owners: HR and line managers. In most organizations, HR owns the design of pay and performance programs, policies and procedures, while managers are charged with implementing these necessary drivers of organizational success.

    Needless to say, this duality of ownership is not conducive to creating the type of performance culture many companies actively seek to establish. Bridging this gap between ownership and implementation is a test of true HR business partnership. The difficulty lies in how to build this bridge.

    This article focuses on the imperative of training managers in pay and performance systems, along with the necessity of transferring ownership and, ultimately, authority for these systems to those same line managers. If these systems are ever to have a chance at success, there needs to be a partnership between HR and the systems’ true and predestined owners.

    Maximizing the Impact of Pay and Performance by Maximizing Understanding
    Today’s pay and performance systems are subject to three critical challenges: Implementation of system requirements, alignment and reward linkage. All too often, managers are expected to learn a performance management system and its associated policies and procedures on their own. They get precious little assistance in connecting the business strategies and individual employee performance, and they do not necessarily understand the link between performance management and the company’s various rewards programs.

    Professionals and managers inherently know that any system relies on proper implementation to be successful. Most managers understand that their role implicitly demands that they motivate their employees to drive business success. However, they are not innate experts in doing so through organizationally imposed performance measuring and reward generating tools. Rather, they need to be taught how to use these tools and they should embrace them as their own.
    It is vital for HR professionals to partner with managers and provide training in performance management and facilitation of pay decisions. HR business partners, whether they are HR generalists, organizational development specialists or compensation experts, have four crucial charges in ensuring that managers understand the system:

    Plan. Help managers understand how performance at all organizational levels links to business strategy achievement, how to translate organizational drivers into individual, team and group performance measures, and how to reward for performance.

    Act. Help managers provide employees the necessary environment and create the needed opportunities to have a positive impact on company performance.

    Monitor. Assist managers to continuously track how they and their employees are attaining the business strategy through individual and team performance, and train managers in how to effectively, efficiently and continuously assess and feed back the results of individuals’ efforts.

    Review. Prepare managers to complete the formal review process, as well as properly relating rewards and performance outcomes appropriately.
    Throughout this process, the HR business partner needs to underscore the importance of this process as being cyclical and continuous, rather than a single annual event. (See Step 1.)

    Maximizing Understanding by Transferring Ownership
    Successfully transferring ownership from HR professional to manager is the first step in maximizing the impact of an organization’s pay and performance. This implies that managers at all levels understand the process, believe in it and have the necessary tools and support to implement pay and performance systems. The elements of this process are not listed in any particular sequence, as they have a circular link. However, a good starting point in gaining manager buy-in and ownership is in the design of the actual programs, policies and procedures. Any employer that has the luxury of designing performance systems from scratch should include on the design team managers at all levels. Should systems already be designed, managers should be given the opportunity to provide input into what is said and what is not working, as you continuously strive to make the system more robust or keep systems in line with the business strategy. This inclusion will make the road to transferring ownership much easier, and from it comes understanding and a reasonable expectation of manager buy-in. In and of itself, it is a significant step in developing a true partnership.

    After this step, ensure that managers have the tools and leadership support necessary to implement the company’s pay and performance systems. This includes any enabling technologies (e.g., e-HR access and tools), easy access to pertinent and relevant performance information, and guidance from an HR business partner who can transfer knowledge without being overbearing or usurping ownership from the manager. (See Step 2.)

    Transferring Ownership and Authority
    Perhaps the most difficult step for HR business partners lies in transferring actual authority for the pay and performance systems to line managers. As stated in the opening paragraph, HR owns — or at least has the appearance of owning — the design of pay and performance programs, policies and procedures, while managers are charged with the implementation of these necessary drivers of organizational success. Ironically, managers often disavow ownership of the systems, as they either are uncomfortable with the process itself, or by trying to shift “tough” decisions to others.

    So, how can managers truly drive organizational performance if they don’t own the design of pay and performance programs, policies and procedures? The implication is that HR professionals must not purport to be the owners of the systems design, nor of overseeing their correct implementation. Rather, HR professionals should assist in transferring authority for these systems to their rightful owners — line managers. This is the true measure of HR business partnership, and is the true first step in driving business success through pay-for-performance systems. Of course, this is more easily said than done.

    One key to accomplish this is to ensure that managers have the necessary understanding of the programs and that they embrace these systems as their own. (See Step 3.) Specifically, HR:

  • Has the responsibility of training and assisting managers in using these systems.
  • Assists in calibrating the use of the systems across the organization.
  • Ensures consistent application and use of the pay and performance systems. After all, if different managers apply different standards and send conflicting messages by varying rewards, employees soon will perceive inequities throughout the organization.
  • Develops partnerships with line managers and support them.
  • Makes necessary design and policy changes to better meet changing business and managerial needs.

    In the end, if HR can be a business partner with managers, helping managers to effectively, efficiently and successfully deploy and implement performance management and pay systems, those managers are more apt to become the true owners of these systems — and everyone wins.

    Step 1: Maximizing the Impact of Pay and Performance by Maximizing Understanding
    Develop a process and follow it:

    Plan. Help managers establish line-of-sight and associated cascading performance measures and rewards.

    Act. Help managers create an environment to foster work, development and performance.
    Define work that needs to be done.
    Provide the tools necessary to perform.
    Ensure understanding of rewards and/or consequences (good and bad) of action.
    Create opportunities for individuals to affect overall company success.

    Monitor. Help managers understand the cyclical and ongoing nature of monitoring.




    Review. Help managers become aware of the difference between the appraisal and review processes. The performance management process and review should not be conducted once a year at appraisal time. The appraisal and formal review is an event, managing and rewarding performance is an ongoing process, with the value of the appraisal transferring into the following year’s plan.

    Step 2: Maximizing Understanding through Transferring Ownership
    Include managers from inception to implementation
    If designing new systems, ask managers at all levels to be part of the design team.
    If the systems already are designed, challenge managers to help make the systems more robust. Pay and performance systems are not static, but evolve as organizations evolve. Thus, revisiting these systems and getting manager assistance in “tightening them up” is an important piece of partnership.
    Once obtaining manager input, do a lot of the work! This positions the total rewards professional as a true partner intent upon making managers’ lives easier by providing the tools, then handing them over.
    Sell it! What’s in it for the manager? Why should they take ownership?
    Identify a problem the manager may have with the pay and performance system. What is most pressing?
    Communicate how the current system is designed to work through the aforementioned issue.
    Develop and plan with the manager to deal with their issues and show how pay and performance programs work to resolve the problem.
    Help the manager to implement the plan while ensuring the integrity of the programs and facilitate results.
    Provide feedback and encouragement to the manager regarding how they resolved the issue.
    Remind managers why it is important for them — and to them — to own the pay and performance system.
    Once the manager is successful with the program, they own it.
    Once they own it, they must be held accountable.

    Step 3: Transferring Ownership and Authority
    Sometimes HR professionals can get in the way of transferring ownership and authority. HR needs to let go and evolve from an authority to a partner and adviser. Identify which of the following barriers exist, then remove them:
    Ineffective training, or no time to implement managerial training.
    Poor communication, or lack of a plan for initial and ongoing communication and feedback (support).
    Discomfort because the players (HR and managers) are simply “not used to it.”
    An unsupportive infrastructure; policies and practices don’t allow for or support it.
    Distrust of managers and the belief that managers just can’t do it.
    Fear of failure; if HR lets go, what if something goes wrong?
    Lack of metrics to measure success. Often, measures focus on the program design and rollout dates rather than ongoing success in implementation, adoption and business results.

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