Today’s post is the featured article from the May 2007 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

blumbergface1So how significant do you really feel at work? It’s a good question to seriously ponder on the porch. While in college, I remember taking a trip to Disney World and visiting Tommorrowland. One exhibit took me through a futuristic home. It was hard to fathom the Jetson-style furnishings with video terminals in every room to be a coming reality. It seemed beyond imagination that kids were playing animated games — each on their own terminal. Parents were shopping and connecting to all kinds of information using other video screens without leaving their kitchen or living room.

Just twenty-something years later, it is hard to conceive that it was ever beyond our imagination. Our world has gone from local closely knit communities to an interconnected global village — in just the snap of a finger. Maybe it’s like going from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond without meaning to do so. It just happened. And it might be time to wakeup to what is lying beneath the covers of this flattened world. Could it have something to do with your own feeling of significance?

In my many years at Arthur Andersen, I remember the pride we all took in being part of a global firm. But I also remember that our real sense of significance, at work, came from the contributions we made in our local office. Local was where the action was and our progression was almost exclusively determined based on the contributions we made in the “village” where we lived! Then all that began to change. The playing field was widened and the importance of the local office began to give way to groupings of offices. We called them “market circles.” The fish bowl was evolving into a small aquarium. This eventually gave way to “regions” — once again expanding the territory to create an even larger aquarium. It’s a scenario that has played out in corporations and professional services firms throughout numerous industries. But bigger geographic gatherings were just the beginning. And if that wasn’t complex enough, we soon experienced the introduction of the “matrix” organization chart. While it was really only two dimensional, its complexity felt like it was 3-D. In theory it seemed to deliver efficiency and effectiveness. But it also seemed to make it less clear as to where the “buck” stopped. In the local set-up, this confusion was rare. During these changes, I began to hear people talk about a diminishing control of their work, an increasing sense of a loss of ownership — and most importantly, the onset of a feeling of insignificance.

Gallup has released extensive research on the lack of employee engagement. Maybe this lack of engagement Gallup refers to is just a symptom of a deeper issue of feeling insignificant. When people don’t feel significant they are less likely to engage — at work, at home or in their community. Instantaneous information from around the globe is streaming in 24-hours a day, every day of the week. It has the potential to increase this feeling of being overwhelmed and insignificant. The constant barrage of choices and distractions can seduce you in to wanting something you don’t need and feeling insignificant when you don’t get it.

It’s now a global playing field — and the truth is, with exponential advances in technology, there is no going back. But I would suggest there is another truth at play as well. You can grow the playing field as large, complex and efficient as you want — yet the need for significance will always be significant. It will be in quality retention, in providing genuine service and in all that is good about business. I will be the first to stand up and applaud efficiency — but genuine significance has a lot more to do with community and mission than it does with measurable monthly metrics.

ACTION IDEA: As you ponder on your mental front-porch this month, I would suggest it is time we do a “significance” check-up. How significant do you feel? How significant do the people who work with you or for you feel? Take the time to reclaim a sense of significance in all that you do. Regardless how big or complex the playing field expands — significance is a choice that we need to continually reclaim.