Are You Working For A Cause Or Applause?

Jul 22, 2013 1 Min Read

When we talk about pursuing a cause, we immediately conjure up images of working for a non-profit organisation. Hold that thought! Not unlike a non-profit organisation, a cause remains the fundamental cornerstone of a profit making company. It is the raison d’être for a company to be in business.

Personally, I am lucky to work for a healthcare company whose mission is to improve and save lives. When I was headhunted for the top human resources (HR) post, I was inspired by this opportunity to save lives.

Yet, the majority of us working in commercial organisations do not have a clue about the cause of the company. The vision and mission statement remains a poster on the wall rather than a heartfelt cause embraced in our day-to-day lives.

The Cause

Recently, Ayu’s company celebrated the “Day of Pink” to promote an inclusive environment and community free of discrimination and bullying. Deeming it a worthy cause, she passed the word around to her close friends who duly brought out the “Pink” to their respective offices.

Not unexpectedly, the idea was well received, demonstrating a high level of intolerance towards rudeness and incivility at work. While the “Day of Pink” was part and parcel of her company’s corporate initiative, it was nonetheless a cause which resonated with Ayu.

Living and breathing social media, Ayu’s applause was the instant gratification via the many “likes” on the pictures she posted on her Facebook page.

Of course, there are leaders who promote their company’s cause much better than others. Take the late Steve Jobs who took corporate evangelism to a fervent height. His cause was to “Make a Dent in the Universe” with Apple products.

Making Apple products is more than just making money. The products are created to redefine the way people do business.

I can vouch that Apple has certainly left deep imprints on the social fabric, from the pervasive use of electronic gadgets amongst my friends to my young nephew, JJ, who suffers from iPad withdrawal syndrome whenever his mother institutes an iPad usage quota.

Catch ‘em when they are young

JJ’s ambition is to become a nanoscientist. In case you were wondering, he is only seven years old and is home schooled by my sister.

When I asked him what fuels his ambition, I was expecting “make tons of money, become famous” in a seven-year-old way.

Imagine my surprise when I heard he wanted to use nanotechnology to design a flying car which will solve the energy and traffic woes of the world.

The conversation reminded me of my “AHA” moment rather early in my career. While I did not harbour JJ’s aspiration of designing a car that can fly, I did set my sights on becoming a corporate milieu “high-flyer”.

However, after spending much time and effort trying to get myself noticed, I started questioning my cause when I realised I had forgotten why I wanted to be a high-flyer in the first place.

I also discovered eventually, that attributing success to the levels of admiration, fame and money would never be enough.

When one has a cause, the motivation comes from within. You no longer need to look outside yourself for approval or affirmation and you stop becoming a slave to the opinions of others.

Not a job, but a calling

As a HR director, I don’t see my job as just doing HR work or leading the HR function. I don’t go around brandishing HR advice or proclaiming subject matter expertise in performance management, talent review or organisational development.

At the heart of the matter is my desire to build a culture where people feel valued, and create an environment where they have the opportunity to build meaningful careers.

The applause comes uninvited, and is most satisfying when I see people enjoying what they do, motivated to do more and talking up the company’s culture. It is, I dare say, a calling, not a job per se.

At a seminar for young graduates, a chief executive officer spoke about his ambition to be the best credit officer. After 10 years of assessing and extending credit to deserving individuals, he bagged the enviable top job at a reputable investment bank.

What was his advice? “When you love what you do, don’t aim for just the title or position. When you do that, you are limiting yourself to the endless possibilities awaiting you.”

Another Worthy Cause:Finding the Perfect Match

A recruitment manager, let’s call her Maggie, was bemoaning about the thankless job she has. “No matter how fast I close the vacancies, no one is ever satisfied,” she laments.

When I quizzed Maggie’s client on his apparent reticence, Ken shrugged and offered, “Yes, Maggie is closing jobs and meeting targets but merely ‘putting bums on seats’. She is not interested if the candidates are suitable or not.”

He proceeded to describe Sri, who in his eyes is a recruiter extraordinaire. What differentiates Sri from Maggie? Sri has a cause, and is committed to finding the best candidate for the job akin to a perfect match.

What is the applause Sri craves? Fantastic feedback, happy candidates and satisfied clients were cited.

He cheers for his candidates who thrive and flourish in their new roles, obviously a personal testament to Sri’s labour of love in talent spotting.

The Applause

My publisher introduced me to a book by Gary Chapman and Paul White, which proclaims: “The main reason for job satisfaction or dissatisfaction is whether or not the individuals feel appreciated and valued for the work they do.”

The book presents five types of languages of appreciation: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, tangible gifts, physical touch – and how they can be applied in the workplace.

The 5 Love Languages book provides great tips on how to appreciate people and addresses the concept of “different strokes for different folks”.

In the past week, have you told someone how much you appreciate his or her work? Have you acknowledged the efforts of a co-worker who stayed back to help you meet your deadline?

Positive strokes go a long way. Jeet, an operations staff said, “The more applause I receive, the more motivated I become to give more in return.” People are genuinely in the pursuit of applause – be it via constructive feedback or praise for a job well done.

I don’t do ‘BOT’ (Blow my Own Trumpet!)

To each his own; some people are just not comfortable with applause and shun the limelight.

Huan is a talented HR manager whose cause is to be the best employee advocate. He works tirelessly on employee welfare and diversity. During a performance appraisal, I noted an absence of accolades or raving reviews of his achievements.

When asked, Huan retorted, “I am not one to blow my own trumpet. Hard work should be recognised on its own because the result speaks for itself.”

The logic for this makes sense – employees who concentrate on results and impact are the most valuable. However, it is not reasonable to expect people to see or appreciate your brilliant work or valiant effort.

At times, you have to spell out your accomplishments. Make it easy for others to notice your success. One possible way is to describe the impact and result of your actions. What was the difference you made?

Here are some examples of how this can be done:

Final Thoughts

This article was inspired by the saying “Work for a cause, not for applause. Live life to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt.”

How many of us think of our work as a calling, that our work matters and it delivers impact to your colleagues, community and customers?

Think about the last time an issue made your heart sing. When you pursue a genuine cause, love what you do and do what you love, you get up in the morning, energised, and look forward to the day’s work.

The applause is likely to be the impact you have made, which no one can ever take away from you.

Anna Tan is a bean counter who found her calling in HR. Her journey in corporate HR has led her to pen “STRETCHED! Unleashing Your Team’s Potential by Coaching the Rubber Band Way where she likened human potential as flexible and agile as the rubber band. Click here for more articles.

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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