Operating at the Intersection of Personal Interest and Company Interests

In recent years, study after study has told us that across the globe the majority of workers are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and find their jobs more a source of frustration than fulfillment.  In the US, the numbers are better, but still show an astounding number of workers who either feel checked out or hate their jobs. Given the hours spent at work and the negative impact on productivity, it’s no surprise that the issue of employee engagement is top of mind for most organizations and often comes up in some form or fashion in our coaching engagements. While the reasons for the lack of engagement are plentiful, one thing is clear; we are far from finding and operating at the intersection of personal needs and company needs. Addressing the challenge isn’t simple and requires that each individual, and those who are tasked with keeping the interests “of the whole” at heart, dig a bit deeper to find common ground.

The Individual

One Gallup report indicated that many individuals are sleep walking through their work-life. In fact, if the numbers are correct, there is a good chance that many of you are one of those people. You get up, go to work, do your job, but don’t feel any real connection to the work or to what really interests you. You are simply doing what you think you have to do.

As I’ve had the opportunity to work with executives over the years, I’ve noticed a few common issues that impact one’s ability to operate at the intersection of personal and collective interests. The most significant issue is that many individuals have trouble defining their core interests. When asked about their interests and what truly energizes them, a blank stare often emerges, or they begin to define their interests in terms of an accomplishment (i.e. “I want to be promoted to EVP.”) or an expectation (i.e. “I need to focus on more strategic work” or “It would be good for me to -“). More often than not, however, the individual shifts the focus of the question and begins to share what they do not want to do. The pattern of getting stuck in the language of what we don’t want, instead of articulating what we do want is one that cripples the process of finding alignment. After all, if we can’t articulate for ourselves what our interests and passions are, we cannot begin the process of alignment.

Clarifying one’s real interests takes work and requires careful observation of self. It also requires deep honesty and a willingness to explore the assumptions and beliefs that cloud our understanding of what truly energizes us.

Company Interests

As our executives explore employee engagement with their “leader” hats on and look to ensure that the enterprise as a whole gets its needs met, other patterns that hinder alignment are observed. In coaching executives who aspire to enhance how they engage their staff, it is not unusual to hear silence when asked if they know what is important to and what interests each member of their team. Many have not asked these critical questions or engaged in conversations to deepen their understanding of what motivates each person. Some executives don’t think to ask the questions, others steer clear of the questions for fear of opening a can of worms that they can’t manage or fulfill for the employee. The end result of either approach is that no meaningful understanding of what is needed to reach and motivate each person exists.

If leaders are going to truly tackle the challenge of engagement, they must engage in direct and deep conversation, asking each person questions such as, “Which aspects of your role do you get excited about?  If you could design the perfect role for you, what would that look like?  In what ways would you like to grow over the next year or two?  What kind of work drains you?”. The idea isn’t to meet all the needs of every employee but to have the knowledge to create a better fit for each employee when possible and to have proactive conversations when alignment can’t be reached.

Finding the intersection of personal interests and company interests isn’t always possible and unrealistic expectations on both sides can abound, but more often than not, engagement can be significantly improved by having honest dialogue, exercising a bit of creativity, and proactively acknowledging when the role needs to tilt toward the company’s interest or the employee’s interest.

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