What GE Aviation Knows About Inspiring Workers

Posted 03.06.2012

Last week, I wrote a post that asked if your organization is ready for the era of connect and collaborate. Today, I want to go a little deeper on the connection part. In particular, I want to talk about how leaders can accomplish big things by connecting their people with the higher purpose of their work.

You’ve probably heard the story about the traveler in the Middle Ages walking down a road who stops at a quarry to ask the workers what they’re doing. The first person he asks replies that his work is sheer, meaningless drudgery. “All I do, all day long, he says, is pound these rocks into bricks.” The traveler walks a little further and asks another worker doing the same thing the same question. “I am doing the greatest thing a man can do, the second worker replies, I’m building a cathedral to glorify God.”

Pride in your work isn’t limited to building cathedrals. You may have seen the advertisements that have been running lately that show GE Aviation workers talking about their craft. They talk about how much pride they have in their skills, each other and what their product does for the world. As one woman says in the video, the work she does helps make the world a smaller place. At the end of the spot, the GE team travels from their plant in North Carolina to Boeing Field in Seattle to see their engine help lift a new 787 Dreamliner into the air.

Those are real people who are doing real things that benefit other real people. One or more leaders has taken the time to establish that context for them. I’ve been talking a lot about this spot in workshops and speeches I’ve given this year. The question I’ve been asking leaders is what opportunities do you have to connect your people with the higher purpose of their work?

One of the leaders who answered that question for me recently was a senior manager in a federal law enforcement agency. He leads a unit that purchases equipment for their agents. He told me that a framed bulletproof vest hangs in the lobby of his office building. The vest has sustained firearms damage right about where the wearer’s heart would be. It was worn by an actual agent who was on the wrong side of a firefight. It saved his life. It now hangs in the office lobby to remind the people who are working there that they’re not just buying equipment. They’re saving lives.

Who is the ultimate beneficiary of the work that you and your team do? What difference does your work make to them? What real life stories can you tell or experiences can you create that will help your people connect with the higher purpose of what they do everyday?