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Meaning is the key to high performance

3 min read


It wasn’t snowing Saturday morning where I live. But still, it felt like a national snow day, and I spent the morning watching the  cable-TV news. And that’s how my little story begins.

One of the co-hosts read with all seriousness an appalling news item about Toyota and how it was supposedly planning to spin the terrible situation regarding its brakes and pedals into a new marketing advantage. Outraged, I immediately tweeted the tidbit. And then I thought I’d write a blog post about it. So, that’s when I decided to do a little more research about this report.  Less than two minutes later, I find out that this item wasn’t news at all. It was satire. I immediately tweeted a retraction.

The co-host, trusting that the producer had done the basic vetting for accuracy, read the item with all reasonable confidence. And I, the news consumer, trusting this outlet, took in the news with all reasonable confidence. And then I spread the rumor like a contagion via Twitter.

Boy, was I peeved. And I began to think about how this could have happened. Here’s what I came up with: Some news producer spotted the item on his/her evening commute on Friday, was attracted to the outrage factor, didn’t bother to ask the basic discerning questions about the source, wrote up a quick script for the next day’s morning show, very pleased with him/herself for finding this hurts-so-good item that would get cable viewers’ tongues a-wagging.

Several things drove the performance of this person: the drive to find scandalous articles about newsmaking companies and perhaps some personal mission to feed the public cynicism around corporate ethics.  But where was the essential mandate of journalism, which is to find, confirm and then accurately report the truth?  Not seeing it here.

Then I thought of a blog posting I’d read the night before about a pair of flight attendants who must have gone to Passive Aggressive University for customer service training.  The passenger’s need was simple and clear. These two went through all the motions of appearing to care.  Where they failed? They didn’t actually care. Or maybe they thought their job is to give passengers the impression that they’re being served so they’ll shut up already. Whatever they thought their job was, they thought they were doing it. They weren’t. They need to learn that passenger and pacify may sound alike. But they aren’t.

What do these two stories have in common?  Two sets of employees looking very busy doing the job. But then falling way short of the mark. How could that be among trained professionals who are paid to think independently and use their judgment?

My guess: They forgot the meaning behind their work. For them, it’s all about the appearance of doing the job: the activities, the metrics, the behaviors. But what about the outcomes? That’s when the customer is properly, appropriately and thoroughly served. That’s what really counts.

You, me, the newscaster, the airline passenger, we’re all the same. We’re counting on the people we work with to do their job. Maybe once they’re reminded how what they do actually makes a difference to people, they’ll actually do it.

Image credit, hidesy, via iStock