Yesterday, on the way home from the orthodontist, my 15-year-old son, Coleton, and I were discussing his plans for the day, which included a handful of household chores. One of those chores was to dispose of any dog poop that may have accumulated in the yard since the previous day.
After a pause in the conversation, Coleton expressed frustration, saying, “Dad, even though I have three siblings, I’m always the one who has to pick up the dog poop.”
I asked, “Doesn’t Cooper help out?”
“When he does,” Coleton began, “he doesn’t do a complete job and then I end up having to finish it.”
“Are you saying that Cooper doesn’t have a good work ethic?” I asked.
“Well, it’s not that,” Coleton conceded, “He applies himself toward things he’s passionate about. I guess he’s just not passionate about poop.”
That observation got me thinking about the importance of connecting to purpose at work. Clearly, Cooper is not passionate about picking up dog poop. Neither am I. I do, however, see the connection between completing undesirable tasks and achieving some desired result (e.g., a poop-free lawn). As Coleton and I continued our conversation, I had an epiphany: Cooper may never be passionate about poop, but he may feel passionate about making a contribution to the family.
When we returned home, I sat down with Cooper. I believe I opened with: “Cooper, you know how hard your mom and I work.” (As a newly-minted 13-year-old, Cooper’s body language conveyed that he’d already heard what I was about to say…) I continued, “Today, for instance, your mom’s day started at 6am. At 1:30pm she’s giving a speech to 400 attendees at a conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. She’ll land back in Denver at 6:00pm and be home an hour later. That’s a long day. And that’s just one illustration of how your mom contributes to our family.”
I explained to Cooper that contribution is a principle; a fundamental truth that serves as the foundation for a system of behavior. And I emphasized that, by ridding the lawn of poop, as opposed to simply completing a chore, he was making a contribution to the family – just like his mother and I do before, during, and after our workdays.
While it’s unrealistic to expect anyone, let alone a teenager, to do an immediate about-face, Cooper has admittedly begun to view household chores less as (mandated) obligations and more as (voluntary) contributions. That’s a plus because the first step toward any behavior change is awareness.
Do you have any employees who perform incomplete work or avoid undesirable work entirely? If so, consider ways to reframe the employee’s job assignments as contributions toward a higher purpose.
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