Miscommunicating on money versus meaning

This really did start out as a comment to John Moore’s Brand Autopsy entry entitled Is it Making Money or Making Meaning? But I just kept writing and writing and writing. So I thought I’d move it over here.

In the post, John argues that employees join a company to make meaning but stay with a company because of money.

And from that experience, I found that making meaning is more important when hiring employees and making money is more important when retaining employees.

I agree: employees join companies to make meaning. My perspective differs on the latter part of the statement, but in a very specific way.

(Now, bear in mind that John is arguing this stance from his perspective at Starbucks and Whole Foods. Not exactly your run of the mill companies as far as attention, concern, and respect for employees go.)

Starbucks attracted lots of candidates interested in working for a company they could believe in. That desire led many candidates to accept a lower salary in exchange for being happier on the job…. [O]nce these new Starbucks’ hires became weathered and tenured employees, the aspect of making meaning and being a part of a company they believed in became less important.

As always, thought-inspiring insight. But, as I said, I have a slightly different take on what might be occurring:

Money only becomes an issue after the employee has entrusted the company to continue delivering meaning.

And bear in mind, this can go either way. With Starbucks and Whole Foods, I’d say they’ve taken one path; I have taken another.

I say this because I’ve always believed in what my company was doing when I started a job, no matter how mundane. I’ve always seen meaning in what I choose to do. And (here’s the clincher) I’ve always ascribed my assumption of meaning to the company to uphold, regardless of whether the company has the ability to support that meaning or not.

In the Starbucks and Whole Foods examples, it is highly likely that the employees and organization share a similar view of meaning. It is highly likely that they are all working toward common, agreed-upon meaning. It is highly likely that they have actually communicated this to one another.

That’s why money becomes an issue. Because the discussion on meaning is moot. It’s all taken care of.

However, this is not the case with 99.9% of the rest of the organizations in the world. And that’s the problem.

You see, most other companies are dysfunctional (well, all companies are dysfunctional, so let’s say “more dysfunctional”). They don’t communicate. You assume the company is doing one thing. And the company assumes it is doing another. And you never really get together to talk it through. You just continue to assume that “everything will work out.”

And much like any relationship in this situation, dysfunction gives way to disillusionment.

So, I always become disillusioned when I realize that the company is not interested in making my meaning. They are not at all accepting of the meaning with which I had embodied them. That is not their pursuit. And, as such, their concept of their function and my concept of their function were at odds.

Because we never clearly communicated with each other in the first place. It was all based on assumption.

Once that disillusionment takes hold, no amount of money will correct it. Because I no longer trust the company. We are at odds. And money won’t fix it.

So at healthy communicative organizations, John, maybe that’s how it works. But with the majority of the dysfunctional business world, it’s a far cry from your experience.

And for that, I envy you.

But I thank you for providing a glimpse that it does exist.

About Rick Turoczy

More than mildly obsessed with the Portland startup community. Founder and editor at Silicon Florist. Cofounder and general manager at PIE. Follow me on Twitter: @turoczy
This entry was posted in Meaning, Money, Motivation. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Miscommunicating on money versus meaning

  1. Yep, Starbucks and Whole Foods spoiled me. They spoiled me to expect any company I work for to uphold a values-based belief system for employees to believe in. As you mention, communication is key in helping employees to understand how and why they should believe in the company they work for. I’ll also add that before communicating, the need for a company to have a definitive POINT OF VIEW comes first. To get employees (or customers for that matter) to believe, companies MUST first have a POINT OF VIEW from which beliefs can be formed.

    I hope you add your comments to my post. I’m sure it’ll spark conversations. Thanks for riffing. Good stuff.

  2. Rick Turoczy says:

    John, Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    You are spoiled. But it’s nice to know that someone is. In any case, I’m sure you know how lucky you are to have had those experiences.

    Excellent insight on the “point of view.” This is something that is incredibly difficult to influence from the employee level, even with a large group of like minded employees. The company has to have the vision to which the employees adhere. Agree, completely.

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