Mary Parker Follett, often called “the prophet of management”, was wrong about one thing. Most of us still split our time between “working” and “providing service” to our communities and society. We do not see how our day-to-day work provides a great service to the world.
In 1925, Follett said “it used to be that a man made money for himself, a purely selfish conception, in the daytime”, and balanced it by providing service to the community outside of work. Or, he might spend time at work focused on making money, and later spend some of that money in ways useful to the community.
“The more wholesome idea, which we have now, is that our work itself is to be our greatest service to the community.”
She was right that this is the more wholesome idea, but she was wrong about it being the way things are for most of us.
Do you live two lives?
Why do you work? Is it simply to make money? Is your work your greatest service to your community and society?
A short parable
Walking in the woods one day, a boy came upon three workers at a construction site. The first worker was dirty, sweaty, and looked tired. The boy asked the first worker, “What are you doing?” The worker replied, “I’m nailing boards.”
The second worker was dirty, sweaty, and had an unhappy expression on his face. The boy asked the second worker, “What are you doing?” The second worker replied, “I’m building a house.”
The third worker was also dirty and sweaty, but was smiling. He worked as hard as the other two, but work seemed to come easier for him. The boy asked the third worker, “What are you doing?” The worker replied, “I’m building a home for a family.”
As this parable points out, sometimes the value of your work is a matter of perspective. When you think about your work from the perspective of those who will use or benefit from your services, work itself becomes easier and more fulfilling.
Discover what service your work provides by uncovering its purpose
These six questions can help you uncover the purpose of your work. Ask yourself:
- What purpose do my activities serve?
- What is the value of my activities?
- How do my activities support a larger effort?”
- What will be the end result of my work?
- Who will experience the result of my work?
- How will they be affected by what I accomplish?
Remember to be clear about why you are doing something, not just what you are doing.