Ep 96: How to Ignite Employee Passion, Purpose and Fulfillment

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Chris Meroff shares his leadership aha moments and how they led him to prioritize employee fulfillment as a way to ignite employee passion. He explains that fulfillment is a product of alignment and he introduces the concepts of employee success planning and defining purpose to achieve alignment. He favors “employee services’ over “human resources” pointing out that he wants to serve employees in his organization. Along with his generational perspectives (the loyalty of boomers has been replaced by the quest for fulfillment demanded by millennials).
 
Chris Meroff on H Studio Podcast
Chris offers a fresh perspective on how HR can back to what that department was intended for - to resource the human beings in your company.
 
Chris Meroff has spent more than 25 years supporting leaders in education at both the campus and district levels. Through his work in 17 states and across thousands of school districts, he’s seen firsthand the frustration administrators feel when their efforts don’t produce the alignment they desire. Never content to sit on the sidelines, he’s made a career of testing new leadership ideas to see what works—and what doesn’t—in service-oriented leadership. His business, Alignment Leadership Consulting, exists to teach leaders how they can boldly pursue a workplace culture that prioritizes employee fulfillment.
 
Listen (above) or watch the video (below) to catch Denise's interview with Chris Meroff. 
 

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Podcast Transcript

Denise Yosafat:
All right. Welcome everyone to HR Studio Podcast. I'm Denise Yosafat, your host for today's episode. Over the next 25 minutes, we're going to explore the topic of creating alignment across the business by fostering a trusting employee centered environment. With us today is thought leader Chris Meroff. Chris has made a career of testing new leadership ideas to see what works and what doesn't in service oriented leadership. His business, Alignment Leadership Consulting, exists to teach leaders how they can boldly pursue a workplace culture that prioritizes employee fulfillment. Chris recently wrote a new book, Align: Four Simple Steps for Leaders to Create Employee Fulfillment Through Alignment Leadership. So Chris, welcome.

Chris Meroff:
Thanks for having me, Denise. Glad to be here.

Denise Yosafat:
So excited to have you today. I love the topic of employee engagement. Let me just begin by talking about your tagline on your website. You say work isn't just about responsibilities, tasks and projects. There are people involved. That's so simple, yet so profound. Tell us why you chose that tagline.

Chris Meroff:
Yeah. That tagline really stems from kind of years of trying to figure out what was the magic formula to deliver products and services that would not only revolutionize maybe an industry, but, more importantly, even my clients. After years and years of trying to figure out how to do things really, really well, it always came back to having amazing people around me who could deliver those products and services. Actually, people who thought of better ways to do things than I ever imagined. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to really recognize and to identify the real superstars around me. It wasn't all my ideas and all the problems I've solved or even my clients. It really was my employees that were the people that I was blessed to work with and through. That was really for me, a change of how my company operated, from being client-centric to being employee-centric.

Denise Yosafat:
Okay. So what are some of the key differences when you made that change?

Chris Meroff:
I think the primary difference is understanding that clients will never really receive what you're really wanting them to get as it relates to products or services unless they're getting them from folks who actually love their jobs. My employees, the people who work for me, who work for those school districts, their success will always translate to client success. Somebody who is passionate and engaged and excited about what they're doing for clients will always deliver better service to those clients. So I just realized that it wasn't wrong to be client-centric, but that really would never happen for the clients unless I figured out how to really turn on or engage my own employees first.

Chris Meroff quote on HR Studio PodcastDenise Yosafat:
Oh, so that's a great lead in. Right? So how did you figure that out? What are some things that you did differently?

Chris Meroff:
Well, some of the things weren't different. Some of the things were kind of following the norms. I put a lot of food in the break rooms. I even went as far as to build out an entire game room with a ping-pong table and a pool table. I tried all the normal things I think people try to figure out, especially here in Austin, Texas, where it's a competitive workplace environment, where recruiting is difficult and talent is hard to come by. You try and find ways to engage. But I found that all those things were so temporary, so surface level, they never really got to the heart of what makes a human being successful at work. That for me is fulfillment. It's really tapping into their own purpose, their own belief system in a way that allows their passion to kind of really manifest itself in producing far more than somebody who's not passionate about work. So really trying to figure out what makes people fulfilled at work was really the quest or the journey that I really started on here in the last probably two years.

Denise Yosafat:
Right. You talk about the difference between, we often use employee engagement, employee engagement, employee engagement, and we have lots of programs to engage our employees. But you're using the word fulfillment. So there's a key difference. What should we be looking for one versus the other and talk about the value of one versus the other?

Chris Meroff:
Absolutely. Engagement is a positive thing. It's just as a business owner, as a business leader, it really didn't get to the heart, for me at least in my employees, as to what was going to allow them to be more than they ever thought they could be. That really went back to fulfillment. For me, fulfilling work ties into my passions. It ties into a belief system. If I really believe in what we're doing and then not only do I believe in the work, but then I can really tap into the part of me that, maybe I'm a creative person, maybe I need to tap into an aspect of who I am that lets that creativity come out, even if I'm not in a creative role. So what we do is we really try to figure out with our employees what for them might equal fulfillment, and it's a moving target.

Chris Meroff:
As we get older, our fulfillment comes from different places. It's a question that never stops getting asked because we need to find out from them, in this phase of life today, this week, what will be fulfilling for you? Well, for most people, fulfilling work comes from understanding or having confidence in the fact that what they're doing is the right thing to do. Most people find anxiety because they're working on projects and tasks and their passion projects and tasks even at work only to find out that their leader, their boss is not happy or their client is not happy with what they're doing. So for us, fulfillment is really coming out of, or stemming out of aligning. It's asking the right questions. It's determining, am I doing the right things? Am I prioritizing my time in a way that not only meets what I'm wanting to do with my passion, what I believe my role is, but my boss and my leader and my client, am I doing the right things at the right time? Living in that certainty really gives people a chance for fulfillment.

Denise Yosafat:
So how would you... I love the fact that living in that certainty gives them a chance for fulfillment. How would you help HR leaders create programs to foster that fulfillment versus just engagement?

Chris Meroff:
It's one of those things. In our company, human resources is... even the term human resources, it means something or it has meant something. It is a resource for the human beings that we have. Unfortunately that phrase gets turned into HR recently. And HR has a different meaning than human resources for most employees. So what we do is we really focus on employee services at our firm. What we really want is we want to serve our employees. We want to serve them toward their own personal purpose, their own personal success. So for us, we put in conversations that would allow that employee to be able to talk about what success looks like.

Chris Meroff:
Is it pay? Is it more time at home? Is it working remotely? What are the aspects of who they are and what they know at least of life right now that they would be able to articulate? What does success look like? For some of our employees, success is literally being able to come in and do their job effectively. Great. So then what we're going to do is we're going to sit with them and show them, through alignment, how we can make that a reality. So that is part of what we're doing is to truly try and figure out from them, from our employees, what does success look like and how does that for them equal fulfillment?

Denise Yosafat:
Is that a yearly conversation or something you have more often?

Chris Meroff:
We're hoping daily.

Denise Yosafat:
Daily?

Chris Meroff:
Daily. Each day, each week represents different crisis. That's the other component is to really understand the human beings. They have personal hurts. They have personal pain, and they're going through things both inside work and outside work. The more that we treat them as human beings that are living a full life inside work and outside work, then we have a lot to talk about. What we really want to do is we love to celebrate the diversity of the world views that are represented. Well, in order to understand the world view, we really need to dig into who these people are and what makes them tick. Back a hundred years ago, businesses when they were in business, they were mostly in manufacturing and agriculture.

Chris Meroff:
Well, as a business leader, a business owner, 90% of what you needed to know was about manufacturing and agriculture, and the people represented kind of a plug and play. They weren't really an asset to that company. Well, here we are a hundred years later and nobody cares about what you're manufacturing or the agriculture. No, 90% now of your assets are your people. And yet those business leaders a hundred years ago would spend every moment of every day learning about that agriculture, learning about that manufacturing process. As business leaders, we didn't evolve. We're not spending that same amount of time now investing and learning about our people like we used to do. We're still investing about the craft we're in.

Denise Yosafat:
The craft and the processes.

Chris Meroff:
Yes, instead of the people, and the people require these conversations every single day.

Denise Yosafat:
Wow. What do you say to someone who says, "I don't have time for these conversations?"

Chris Meroff:
Then they themselves need alignment with their own priorities, because they will find that in leadership, it's a lonely spot. When you spend time on processes, on solving problems and that dominates your time, you'll just end up really lonely. In that loneliness, you can never find fulfillment. This fulfillment goes both ways. When my employees are fulfilled, there's nothing more fulfilling for me as a leader. So if I can start connecting those two things and I get to tap into who I am and my passion and my energy and bring that to every conversation, now I can apply that to a problem.

Denise Yosafat:
Right.

Chris Meroff:
Just start from the wrong place.

Denise Yosafat:
So let's talk about how a lot of organizations, they goal set and they go from cascading levels from the top down and here's what the company needs and here's what the division needs, here's what the department needs and so on, down to the individual. It sounds like what you're saying is as part of that goal setting conversation, it's really important to talk about what the employee wants and how they see themselves.

Chris Meroff:
That's right. There are two kinds of aspects of alignment. One is you do have to have employees who will align to their role. In other words, we need to define that role. We need to give them purpose to that role. We can then utilize that purpose to prioritize everything that they do, how they spend their day. We can do that together. We don't need to tell them how to prioritize, but we can work through that together. We can allocate those resources appropriately. The employees do need to align to that. They need to agree to it. They need to fully comprehend it and then commit to it, and if they do that, now as a business leader, I now need to really now shape how I'm talking to them by aligning to them.

Chris Meroff:
Now I'm going to ask them, what are again the things that are important to them? How do they define success? So we do employee success planning as a way for us to figure out from them exactly what that would look like going forward. There's no timetable to it. It's not trying to find their success within our company. It's literally their success. But they must first align to us before I can align to them. So I would give that piece of advice to most companies. Most companies want to dive in and talk about this, who are about fulfillment for their employees, but they jump in and try to align to their employees before their employees have first aligned to them. That will just continue to create frustration.

Denise Yosafat:
So what does that look like? Aligning, kind of reversing what they usually do. What does that actually look like?

Chris Meroff:
So the very first thing we need to have for that role is a purpose statement, a purpose statement that clearly identifies really a destination. Think of a purpose as a destination. So if we can clearly identify a destination. We all know that some people are really good at defining a destination and other people aren't. For me, when somebody asks me or my family asks me where we're going, I give them a very generic answer. I'm not really good at defining the very specific place we're going. What we need to get, as leaders, really good at is spending a lot of time defining the destination, and that is purpose for your employee. From there, we can then identify for them, because of that purpose, here's how we're going to prioritize your day, your week, and so we can leverage purpose so that that employee removes all uncertainty about what they should be working on and when.

Chris Meroff:
It gives them the confidence that says, hey, when I get this project done, I may not do the project great, but I know I'm supposed to be working on it. I know it's going to be delivered on this day, and I know that the client and my leader, we're all in agreement. We are all aligned that 'this' is the most important thing I can work on right now. Well that just gives an amazing amount of freedom and confidence to your employees. It removes so much anxiety because it allows for them to feel like their work matters. It gives them value.

Denise Yosafat:
Yeah. It gives them value and that tremendous sense of alignment.

Chris Meroff:
That's right.

Denise Yosafat:
Right. So let me turn to the non-ideal situation where sometimes the work just has to get done and it may not align with an employee's purpose. It may not align with really what they see as success in their life. What do you do then? How do you help that employee through those situations that do come up? Sometimes you just have to get the work done.

Chris Meroff:
Right, right. Well there are two different answers to that. One is, let's take the scenario by which it doesn't align to their purpose. Well, as a leader then I need to get them in a room and really understand how this is outside of the purpose that we've already aligned to. And if it is, then I need to reassign it to somebody else. That's on the leader to do. Or I need to rewrite the purpose with them in a way that makes sense so that they can align to that particular task. Okay? So that's kind of one, but I think really where you're going is trying to find out, well this may fit within their purpose, but it's literally the task that nobody wants to do. It's the hard things. We just really try to go back to the belief in that purpose. We try to always go back and say, "Well listen, nobody wants to do this task. We get that. But we do know how it serves our purpose." Because we wrote a purpose that taps into our employee's belief, then that allows us to power through to do the hard things.

Chris Meroff Quote on HR Studio PodcastChris Meroff:
One of the things that purpose does is it will allow us to do things that we normally wouldn't want to do. That really kind of defines work. Work isn't about, or fulfillment isn't about eliminating things that we don't want to do. It's giving meaning to those things. So when you have two guys in a foxhole-

Denise Yosafat:
Yeah.

Chris Meroff:
Each other wondering why are we here? I hate everything about this. They can look at each other and say, "Yeah, but I'm here for you." For every human being, you can tap into the strength of their will to get things done that they never thought they could do before. You do that by tapping into a belief system that is so deeply rooted in who they are, that it allows them to do the hard work in order to accomplish a much bigger purpose.

Denise Yosafat:
Right. You make me think of the example of my brothers who worked at a steel mill when they were young to save for college. The purpose was very clear. They needed the money for college.

Chris Meroff:
Right.

Denise Yosafat:
They did the hard work. Rolled up their sleeves and did it. Even though it was grimy and so forth, it felt good to get the money for college.

Chris Meroff:
Exactly. Yeah, you can give any work purpose. But by just giving it purpose, you have to also know your people well enough to know how that purpose taps in to their belief system. Again, when those two things come together, as human beings, we have amazing strength of will. We can do absolutely unbelievable things when we leverage that about ourselves.

Denise Yosafat:
So let's talk about Millennials a little bit.

Chris Meroff:
Yeah.

Denise Yosafat:
Because we know studies have shown that it's very much a, "I don't feel fulfilled. I'm moving on." In terms of trends, not everyone, but certainly statistics show that. So how does what you're covering today affect Millennials and how should we be thinking about it to retain our talent pool?

Chris Meroff:
Yeah. Well, it's funny. Millennials, we've been, of course, talking about this. I have been in leadership for the past decade, and recently I've come to the conclusion that I'm so thankful for millennials because they're the first generation that's finally standing up for what we, as workers, should have been standing up for generations. I mean, you have generations of people, I'm thinking about my grandparents and the greatest generation, who were just so thankful to have a job that they were going to stick in that job no matter what. My parents, the baby boomers, they kind of came into that thinking that loyalty mattered, and so they stuck with jobs for their career out of loyalty.

Denise Yosafat:
Right, 30, 40 years.

Chris Meroff:
Absolutely. Then you have my generation, Gen X who says, "Well, I don't really want to be loyal, but I'm really feeling guilty in leaving companies, but I really have this itch to find something that's going to bring fulfillment."

Chris Meroff:
So you have maybe kind of hit or miss, but I do know that all those generations who were in it for the wrong reasons didn't give all that we had to the work at hand. The Millennials are the first generation in the last hundred years that says, "I don't care about loyalty. I don't care about those aspects of work and what I owe work. Work owes me." They're the first generation that has given really voice to this concept that work/life integration must be pursued, not work/life balance, that doesn't exist to me, but work/life integration does. That means that we can give value, we can give meaning to work just like you can give value and meaning to home life, to friends and family and so on. I love the fact that they've confronted us, and they've done it in a way that we've never had turnover rates as high in this country ever in the history of the working.

Chris Meroff:
What I love is that now companies are finally forced to face the fact that we must address employee fulfillment because the generations to come are not going to revert back to a loyalty based employment. They're going to want to integrate work in life so that they can find fulfillment in all aspects for themselves. So for us, we just utilize them to kind of leverage and understand what fulfillment needs to look like for that generation and for Gen Z as they're coming into the workplace. We love the fact that they're asking questions, that they're pushing us to figure out, for me, how I can be a part of their fulfillment in life and not just at work or not just at home. So I love what they've done. They've really shaken up the workplace, but it's about time.

Denise Yosafat:
Yeah. The way you talk about it, it's almost like you need fulfillment to get that loyalty back.

Chris Meroff:
Absolutely. Yeah. They'll be loyal to the right things. They won't have to be loyal to me. They won't have to be loyal to a good boss or a good leader. They can be loyal to this idea of alignment. If they don't find alignment, and not all of our employees have found alignment here because they can't. So we encourage them to move on to find a job where they can find alignment. So I hope they become students of alignment. When you do that, when you force those conversations, fulfillment just flows out of that. I love that we're being confronted with that on a daily basis. Our leaders are being confronted because it allows us to prioritize our time, to spend more time with those folks and less time on solving problems and creating SOPs.

Denise Yosafat:
Right. I love the fact that human resources is employee services and the way that it operates is even differently in the way it's encouraging different kinds of conversations on a daily basis. So let's say, just take an example, a manager has 12 people reporting to them.

Chris Meroff:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Denise Yosafat:
Are you seeing that manager makes the time, says, "Okay, 15 minutes, I'm going to meet with each of these 12 people at the beginning of each day." Is that what you're seeing? Describe that.

Chris Meroff:
So it kind of takes it's shape differently depending on the actual team. It also takes shape differently depending on that leader's leader. In order for alignment to happen for a core employee, let's say those 12, that leader who's over them, must also align to their purpose. So we write their purpose in a way that gives them the ability to prioritize their time. See, a lot of companies might want this for their employees, but what they do is they don't then give the tools needed for that leader to free up their time. They give them expectations that are unrealistic, and they might talk about wanting this for their employees, but then they don't structure that leader's day in a way that allows for it. Not only just allows for it, but demands it.

Denise Yosafat:
Right.

Chris Meroff:
So this has to be a scenario by which all leaders are on the same page to dedicate that time to figure out how to communicate in a way that allows their employees to align to them so that they as a leader can align to their employees.

Denise Yosafat:
Right. You said this doesn't work for everyone and sometimes you encourage people to leave. Tell us more about that.

Chris Meroff:
That process is through really defining the purpose. If they've been coming into a job and we have to redefine that purpose, we're in obviously an ever changing workplace scenario, and clients want different things. Well, whatever the reason might be, if the purpose doesn't make sense to them or they just don't want to align to that purpose, then we encourage that conversation before the hiring process, obviously, but we then also continually talk about it so that that gives them freedom and not feeling like, well, they're letting anybody down, if it just doesn't align to who they are. We would rather know that sooner rather than later. We would rather allow them to have that freedom in life and not feel like, "Hey, I've got to keep coming into work even though I just don't understand the purpose. Honestly, I don't get the purpose. I'm not really behind it. It doesn't tap into a belief that I have, so I'm just coming in to get a paycheck." We would rather find that out sooner rather than later and allow them to go experience fulfillment somewhere else.

Denise Yosafat:
Right. Makes sense. This has been fascinating. Any other things? Any other thoughts, I should say, that you have for our HR leaders as they think about, or should I say employee services, as they think about how to use your concepts in an organization?

Chris Meroff:
I think the last thing I would say to kind of human resources is to really get back to what that department was intended for. It's to resource the human beings in your company. It's to give them the resources so that they can eliminate distraction and be able to focus solely on purpose, on understanding their role, understanding how it fits in with the organization, and ultimately understanding that every human being has intrinsic value and it doesn't matter what they do, it matters who they are. I would just encourage them to invest in the right things, and that is in their people.

Denise Yosafat:
Yeah. What a lovely way to end it. Thank you Chris. This has been fascinating, and I hope organizations hear this, and I hope they put together programs and allow leaders time to invest in their employees this way.

Chris Meroff:
Well thanks for having me on, Denise. It's been great.

Denise Yosafat:
So I just want to speak out to our podcast listeners for a minute. If you are not a subscriber yet to HR Studio Podcast, you can become one by going to HRstudiopodcast.com. You'll get notified of new episodes. Also there you'll find all our speaker's social handles and contact information. So look for Chris's social handles and contact information, show notes, and more about your book, so they'll find that on our website. Once again, thank you so much for enlightening us, bringing us employee services. That's going to resonate in my mind versus human resources now. I'll go work with organizations going, well, you've got to rename that organization. But thank you again, and all the best in helping organizations align.

Chris Meroff:
Great. Thank you again.

Denise Yosafat:
All right. Take care.


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Date: 
Tuesday, January 7, 2020 - 8:00am
Industry: 
Consulting
Host: 
Denise Yosafat
Guest: 
Chris Meroff
Type: 
HR Studio Podcast