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  • Writer's pictureSonja Kirschner

Back to school, back to work, back to inspiration?

“You shut me down, you like the control

You speak to me like I'm a child

Try to hold it down, I know the answer

I can shake it off and you feel threatened by me

I tried to play it nice but [...]

Don't kill my vibe [...]

Don't break my stride”

Sigrid, Don’t kill my vibe

Continuing the little series about the double human coaching approach with my favorite topic: INSPIRATION! Why favorite? Because it’s a neglected one in business, I’m afraid. Because it often lacks behind other hot topics even in HR talk. And because in the same heartbeat, sadly I hear the sentence “I’m so under-inspired” all the time, also when I reached out to a couple of people and clients and asked them what is inspiring and uninspiring at work for them.

You see the results of this little non-representative study in the pic. It wasn’t intended to meet research standards - the topic of inspiration at work is well-researched - but rather to talk with some of my people about what’s important to THEM and get a snapshot of my direct environment. At the same time, the results are very much in line with what you can read about e.g. in the field of employee engagement these days and with what I heard in the last 15 years as an HR professional. If I had set it up as a study then, all of the often emotional, always serious and heartfelt conversations would make a good sample size. So, no research standard in this little summary but the major themes align and are highlighted in the pic.

Let’s cover them real quick: People are inspired by impact, meaning and purpose. And they love being connected - to the bigger picture and to each other. Full stop! On the other side, they are underwhelmed by traditional hierarchical thinking, by politics, by handling the same old boring stuff over and over again. No surprise either. But think about it! Two aspects stand out: There seem to be more common themes on the negative side than on the positive one, i.e. there is an opportunity for leaders and organizations to rule out a lot of them AT ONCE by addressing some organization and culture immanent features, e.g. by rewarding collaboration across the organization instead of following siloed hierarchical structures or by eliminating as much administrative hassles and kindergarten control mechanisms as possible and instead lead the people (who were most of the time hired through an elaborate screening process anyway!) by trust. Treat them like adults, Sigrid would say! Draining the uninspiring sources is an organizational task and it doesn’t have to be all that complicated.

When it comes to the positive side, to the source of inspiration, the picture looks more diverse, except for one thing: IMPACT. That’s THE all-time favorite and it’s just natural. No one goes through years and years of education, through lengthy recruiting processes and hours and hours of work if they don’t see the sense in it. Making a difference, sometimes for the greater good, for society, for the world, for the children, or sometimes just to make a customer smile is the core of feeling accomplished and a lot of the other things my peeps mentioned go in the same direction: solving customers problems, “do your magic”, intellectual curiosity .... to only name a few.

Feeling connected to the organization and to colleagues is equally important. We spend a lot of time at work and rather do that with people we like. Often the selection process takes care of that. In most of the organizations I know there are certain tribes; on a big scale people fit in and like each other.

And then there are many aspects which seem to be more individual, at least for this little study: Working from one’s garden, the excellent work of others, breaks or even disruptions as one client called it, are more individual sources of inspiration. So not manageable? By no means! Actually, they are easy to manage and it starts with listening! As a leader or as an HR organization it’s absolutely key to understand what the drivers of inspiration are. Sometimes I hear the more traditional ones scream “Why? I’m not a wellness spa! Work is sometimes uncomfortable, just push through like anyone else!”. Sure, sometimes you have to push through! But inspiration is worth it, dear skeptics!

Because inspired people have a stronger drive to master their work, are more intrinsically motivated and report higher levels of important psychological resources such as belief in their own abilities, self-esteem and optimism (HBR, November 2008). That’s why at double human we coach leaders to multiply an inspiring experience 1) by listening what the sources of inspiration for THEIR people are and 2) by making use of them in favor of their people and their organization. It’s a win-win, trust me!

“Don’t break my stride”, Sigrid would say!

Yours, Sonja

P.S. One of the most academically educated participants of this mini study asked me if this is for the highly educated only, for the white-collar league and if employees at the assembly line even have a choice to seek inspiration. We had a very inspiring conversation about this and I truly believe that there are some very simple ways to make work inspiring for EVERYONE: celebrating successes, saying THANK YOU for good work, laughing together are just a few that work ANYWHERE! #keepithuman #itsworthit!

P.P.S. Seeking inspiration for yourself and ready to spark it in others: check out w/ sisters, a new online live peer-to-peer coaching program for women I’m offering together with my colleague and dear friend, Cindy Hurley-Leister. Reach out and we’ll include you!

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