Book Review: Meaning at Work – And Its Hidden Language, by Danny Gutknecht

Working as a recruiter in the medical field, author Danny Gutknecht discovered a new characteristic among the younger generation of job seekers — making money or gaining prestige takes a back seat to finding work that feeds the soul. “Fit” has supplanted financial stability and “meaning” overrules matching  skillsets.

But, as Gutknecht points out in his book, Meaning at Work – And It’s Hidden Language (Aviri Publishing, April 10, 2017), organizations are finding that determining meaning is a complex undertaking that few are able to accomplish. It’s far more than developing a persuasive slogan or a popular product. Today’s managers and CEOs are searching for that magic combination of intangible elements that allows talent and passion to thrive. But the language around organizational meaning is only starting to be developed. A new vocabulary is  needed.

Gutknecht documents how authoritarian and profit-focused workplace models have failed, and describes the stunted attempts by some companies to create organizational meaning as this new workplace model tries to find its footing. He describes today’s employees as “free agents seeking an authentic connection.” They want to find work that serves what they value alongside people who are also serving those  values.

Just changing the conversation about respective and collective roles, and how each contributes to organizational potential, begins to open a new dialogue. Gutknecht describes the framework for what he calls “Essence Mining,” which culls out the themes that employees find meaningful within the organization. For example, he notes how Southwest Airlines works to create the experience within its organization that it wants to project externally to its customers. To do so, the airline purposely hires employees who display  empathy.

Another consideration for organizational meaning, he points out, is that it cannot be static, but needs to regularly undergo examination. He cites Apple as a company that evaluates new business ventures in relation to organizational fit regarding whether the opportunity allows employees to continue to contribute to a larger purpose in line with their sense of  meaning.

Gutknecht’s Meaning at Work serves as a playbook for companies exploring their own concept of organizational meaning. He advises that, “…it isn’t a motto, a chant, or even a culture enforced from above.” Instead, it’s about finding “…what unites all people trying to accomplish something powerful that involves collaborating: shared  meaning.”

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