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How much are you worth?

Wealth (ˈwelth): n. Abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.

I look to the dictionary pretty often, in fear that I’m going to misuse a word and ruin an entire conversation, speech, public bathroom vandalism or whatever. However, I have to say I have a particular problem with the definition offered for “wealth”, since all it does is validate the ongoing problem that we have as a consumer-driven culture. Imagine that, a business owner complaining about a society driven by materialism.

Or maybe I just have a warped view of what wealth is or how it’s measured. To me, wealth is not quantified by the volume of toys one has, or the size of the house in which they are packed. My own definition goes a little like this:

Wealth (ˈwelth): n. The freedom one has to be able to live the life one wants to live.

That seems to make a lot more sense to me. If for no other reason, it allows for each individual to decide what their idea of wealth is. A number of my best friends are far more comfortable living in an apartment and driving older cars than dealing with the pressure of a higher cost of living. Does this mean that, to be considered a success, they have to sacrifice their own happiness? I think that the measure of their satisfaction with the state of their lives could be the only real determining factor of how successful – or wealthy – they really are.  Mind you, I would be a moron (not to mention a destitute one) if I didn’t understand the role of money in creating that freedom, yet cash and possessions are not my primary motivators. If it was, I may be a lot wealthier by the textbook definition, but I wouldn’t be as happy. So what does it for me? What do I use as a measure of wealth in my life?

Purpose. The great thing about entrepreneurship (aside from the ability to work myself into a narcoleptic daze) is that I can generate income through things that give me a great sense of purpose. That’s a need that I believe everyone has, whether they have the desire to venture out on their own or not. This is something to bear in mind as a manager. Your team’s happiness is never equivalent to their salary. In fact, if many feel like they are making an impact on the lives of customers, fellow employees, or society as a whole, the money they make only needs to sustain them – not help them accumulate more stuff.

Pay = compliance. Purpose = commitment.

So how do you give your team that sense of purpose? Here are a few ideas to start:

1. Give them control. Empowering your team to use their judgment and to make quick customer service decisions will not only make your team feel more important, it will dramatically increase your bottom line with the time saved by constantly requiring authorization. There are many success stories that reinforce this fact. However, it cannot be done without education. Teach your team that if a problem costs less than $x, just take care of it right away to please the customer. That dollar amount can usually be determined by the cost of time saved in the back-and-forth of managerial approval.

2. Know your employees and challenge them individually. Many industries, if not most, are structured in such a way that only allow for employees to climb the ladder in one direction. For instance, if you’re an architect, the only career path you have is to work yourself into managing other people. Does this mean that introverted architects are doomed to a job they don’t like? Apparently. Instead, look to what motivates them individually. For instance, the keep-to-himself architect may be a financial wizard, an avid writer on the history of western architecture or a fan of studying HR law. These are tools that you can take advantage of in your firm while giving that team member a greater feeling of significance.

3. Drop the leash. Envision the job from hell. I know it sounds funny (not to mention a simple thing to do), but picture your own idea of the worst employment scenario you can. I would be willing to bet that it involves someone standing over you, dictating every action and critiquing every impulse. Don’t be that guy.

A growing number of the greatest companies of our time are becoming so in part because they loosen restrictions on their team. For example, a legendary benefit of working at Google is their “20 percent time” program. Google will actually allow their employees up to 20 percent of their week to pursue special projects. This has resulted in an explosion of creativity, not to mention some of the most popular features Google has ever developed. It’s not because Google has the money to blow on touchy-feely ideas, but because they realize the importance of autonomy. It seems counter-intuitive that, by allowing your team to go willy-nilly and not stick to a predetermined workplan, you can actually boost productivity and offer a deep sense of autonomy. It’s happening more and more.

Take a look at what drives you at your job. If you have nothing to motivate you, quit wasting your time reading blogs and get a new job. Chances are though, when you have enough money to sustain yourself and your family, all you and your employees may be looking for is a greater sense of purpose.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.


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