This is an excerpt from my new book, Organizational Psychology for Managers
In creating the rest of the story, we need to recognize some basic facts: people operate in their own perceived best interest and people preferentially choose higher status over lower status. The problem is that we donít always know what they perceive their best interest to be, and we donít necessarily know how someone measures status. However, we do that there are certain things people seek in a job, be that volunteer work or their careers. To paraphrase psychologist Peter Ossorio, when people value a concept or an ideal, they will value and be attracted to specific instances of that ideal. The goal, therefore, is to understand what you offer along the dimensions of things people value. Understanding what you offer along each of these dimensions is critical to being able to construct an organizational narrative that will attract the right people to the organization, provide the framework in which motivation can occur, and maximize your chances of creating a highly motivated, loyal, productive work force: itís not enough to merely provide opportunity; you have to make sure people both know that the opportunity exists and believe itís worth chasing.
We need to start by recognizing that everyone is the hero of their own story. We all have dreams, hopes, and aspirations for the future. When the job we are doing fits into our self-narrative, we feel connected and excited. The work matters, itís helping us get where we want to go. Note that this doesnít mean that you need to hire a college graduate straight into the role of CEO in order for them to feel heroic; that would be foolish on many levels. Rather, people will work hard at even menial jobs provided those jobs provide a path to something bigger. Conversely, high profile jobs with lots of perks wonít hold someone who feels that, even in such a role, they are relegated to being a bit player or an interchangeable component. Nobody likes being the sidekick forever. People want to feel important, as if they matter as individuals. People who feel like cogs in the machine disengage.
Next, the story has to be exciting, or at least interesting. It has to hold our attention, particularly in todayís distraction filled world. What we are doing has to matter sufficiently that itís what weíll choose to do because it matters, not because weíll get yelled at by the boss or fired. Remember, you might find writing software to be the most boring thing imaginable, but most software engineers find it incredibly enjoyable. In building your narrative, you need to understand at least a little bit about the people you want to attract so that you can speak to them in their language. That means that you will have multiple overlapping stories for different parts of the organization and different jobs within it. Generic stories attract generic people.
In building the story, there are then six key elements that we have to consider: the variety, or lack thereof, of the skills a person will be called up to use; the visibility of a task; the importance of a task; how much autonomy or supervision the person will have; how they will receive feedback; opportunities for growth; and safety. Frequently, we will have to balance different competing values of at least some of the first five elements. A lack of a path for growth, however, never goes over well. A lack of safety, itself a rather complex subject, can undermine everything else.