The completion of the title above might suggest tolerance for an all too painful reality, at least for some. “Another day, another dollar,” as the saying goes, is little encouragement for the hard work most perform for the money they earn. But it does point to the contract nature of our investment in work, which simply put is “a good day’s wage for a good day’s work.” Both are equitable ideas on the surface, but certainly not the hoped for attitude that builds successful organizations.
Virtually every organization of worth has a “values and beliefs” system in place. If they’re achieving their goals it is likely that their people consider themselves “stakeholders” and not just employees, and are living them daily. The pap heard on the nightly news and which populates the front pages of most newspapers quickly dispels any question over this view; the world can be a scary place, or it can be quite something else. Work may be drudgery to many (85% by survey), but it’s pure joy to others. Are you getting the picture? We can make a difference, and it is not by the sad reconciliation with the title of this column. Anyone who disbelieves this notion has never gone to bed with a mosquito, as Gandhi liked to say.
We go to work to grow opportunity for ourselves, the organization, and the stakeholders it serves — employees, customers, community, and beneficial worldwide initiatives like a cleaner, more cooperative, and healthier planet and people. We go into the community to celebrate what’s right with the world. And we go home to model these ethical foundations to our family and friends.
If we pause to consider the essential motivations in the things we do, we discover the ethics in our walk. They are the core ingredients of thought and behavior, and the driving forces behind the legacy building that is both our birthright and purpose. They direct us in ways imperceptible to the casual observer, but expressly responsible for the outcomes we produce. They provide the protection we need from the egregious overacting of the disingenuous, and tie us to the safety cord that is our system of laws. They ground us and stabilize our worlds, small and large, providing stability in a rapidly changing and complex environment. And they provide the compass that both secures our contribution and encourages the best in others. Simply, they make for good business and they help to keep us out of harm’s way.
The workaday world is more complex and challenging than ever before, but with no less opportunity. This may sound arrogant, since I have paying work to do, but it is by definition opportunity in its simplest context: we must see first what we desire before it can become reality. Aristotle said, “We do not act rightly because we have virtue and excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.” Work involves so much of one’s time and identity it fails to provide anything of value without first a commitment to the very best in us. And the very best is not our skill or knowledge, but the essential values in our approach. In the end, the only real failure is the failure to try.