Saturday, April 28, 2012

Of High Morale and Meaningful Work

The way to sustain the high morale of valued staff is to:

  • Remind them of the higher purposes that your organization is working toward
  • Define goals that constitute tangible steps toward the attainment of those higher purposes
  • Show them how their labor will advance those goals and, when progress is made, how their efforts contributed directly to the outcome.

Yes, workers want to be fairly compensated and recognized for their achievements but what they want even more is meaning in their lives.  In our workaday world meaning is derived from seeing the results of our efforts, especially when they benefit others.

Years ago, I spent a Labor Day weekend cutting, splitting and stacking wood for my aging mother and father in-law.  Wood was their primary heating source for the winter.   For three days, my brother in-law, a neighbor rose at dawn and worked until dusk.  We ate heartily without fear of putting on an ounce and slept, appropriately enough, like logs.  At the end of the three days, our muscles ached but we had the immense satisfaction standing back and admiring three cords of newly cut, cleanly split, neatly stacked wood along the rail fence that ran adjacent to their garage.  We could see how much we had accomplished and take enormous satisfaction in knowing our work would keep Pauline and Cash’s house warm throughout the cold months.

Yet for too many, work is like a run on the treadmill. They expend a good amount of energy but never get anywhere.  They see few or no results and rarely know how they have bettered the lives of others.   The best workers find only limited satisfaction in meeting metrical or monetary goals.  They don't mind working hard or putting in extra hours if they can tell themselves or their loved ones that it was worth the effort.

High-minded ideals are wonderful but they need to be coupled incisive strategies that illuminate the way forward.  Without the path of a plan that tempers our organization’s aspirations with the realities to be faced, we wish and wander and wonder if we’re making a difference.  If we are not show a way to lend our talents and labors to those most in need of them, we work toward ends that feel empty when attained.

If you identify with these sentiments, let me ask you a favor.  Go back over the preceding paragraphs and substitute “philanthropists” and “donors” for “staff” and “workers.” You will see the same holds true.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Letter to All Students and Alumni

Dear Students and Alumni Everywhere,

Some of you might have heard of me but may wonder if I am nothing more than a sentimental construct of the past. Some of you know me by name only. Some, I fear, know me not at all.

I am unmistakably present at fewer institutions than I would like but part of me can be found in many. I represent the part of a learning institution that cares for you, that delights in your presence, that thrills at glimmers of your potential and imagines with great hope what you might someday be, that smiles at but sees beyond the excesses of your youth, that senses your struggles, and seeks to comfort and correct in equal measure.

I can be found in the affirming academic standards of professors and the attentiveness of food service workers, and in the diligence of administrators and administrative assistants, librarians and campus safety officers. You will see me in the long hours they devote to doing well by you, in the way they not only grade your papers but seek to strengthen your powers of reasoning, in their intuiting of, and attendance to, your emotional state, and in their encouragement of your efforts and individual aspirations.

Perhaps you do not always see them or what they are trying to do for you. If not, you do not see me in them. Perhaps you are more sensitive to those who are gruff or distracted by their own ambitions or disappointments. But if you look for me, you will find me in the simple actions and quiet dedications of some people at most institutions. If you seek and discover these traits, you will carry them in grateful memory throughout your life and you will see the institution in a kinder light.

When you graduate, you will find me in those who hope to hear from you, to learn of your trials and triumphs, both personal and professional. And, yes, they will always appreciate it when you reflect on the gift you were given when you first set foot on campus; the gift from everyone past and present who built equity in the institution, who believed in giving more to the next generation than the previous generation had given them. And they will be grateful when you decide to the same for the coming generations, in any way you can.

But you will know where I reside in truest form when you see the greatest pride taken in the way you live your life, in the way you seek to serve others, in the manifestations of any obligation you may feel to “give back,” to society, to use anything you’ve learned or earned to ease the way for those with less. Then, my daughter, my son, ah, then your mother’s unabashed pride will burn bright.

And as we get older, I hope your memories will be sufficiently fond to keep an eye on me. Just because I have been of one generation does not meet I will be of the next. The hearts of those in whom you saw me will grow old and die. I can only hope that they will have inspired others to bring me to life again in their own way and time. But if you are not attentive, I can slip away. If you do not reflect on who or what made a difference as time goes by, and do not let them know how your success relates to their actions or encouragements, they will be left wondering if they made much of a difference, or at all.

So, you see, a part of me resides in and depends on you, too. If I was not a present in your life as I should, if I was crowded out by the pretentions of prestige or incessant calls for financial support, you can choose to hold that against me, to be indifferent, or aloof, or you can be for others what you hoped I would be for you. I am as mythic or as real as each generation makes me. All it takes is a few who understand the difference I can make in the lives of so many for so long.

Fondly yours,

Alma Mater*

(*Latin for “Nourishing Mother)