Make A New Year’s Resolution To Make Work Matter

by Alex Shootman
, 4 min read
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Almost 20 years ago, management consultant and author Peter Drucker predicted the dilemma that’s currently facing scores of businesses in today’s digital economy. He wrote:

"The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing.

"The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers."


See our infographic "What Motivates Knowledge Workers?" to learn what makes knowledge workers tick.


As vital as it is to quantify, measure, and automate human effort at work—a space in which Workfront is an innovator—getting granular about productivity solves only half of the problem. Leaders still have to tap into intrinsic human motivators and harness the forces that make folks want to work harder and smarter.

The question is not: How do you get more out of 40 hours?

The question is: How do you create so much motivation in people that they lose themselves in the work—and you have to tell them to stop working?

The answer to this question is the same whether you’re talking about construction workers or software developers or marketers. It was the same 100 years ago and it will hold true 100 years into the future:

Make sure every worker understands his or her role, believes it matters, and feels pride in the work.

The problem is, these universal intrinsic motivators are easily lost in a modern digital economy, where we’re not always producing tangible products that we can hold up and admire. 

Many workers no longer have physical proof of the good work they did, and the digital proof is fragmented in email, spreadsheets, shared documents, and network folders—which more than 3/4 of workers still use to manage their work. Just 27% of knowledge workers surveyed are reaping the benefits of project management software. 

We’re facing other challenges, too, including: 

  • Open-office plans and the culture of interruptions. “'Open office' is polite business language for “you’ll never get anything done ever again!’” writes author and speaker Chris Brogan. (But these five ideas can help.)
  • The transition to an attention economy. “The most valuable resource today, and the thing in greatest shortage, isn’t time; it’s attention,” writes business psychologist Tony Crabbe. “The consumers of your work—whether they be customers or your management—are overwhelmed. They can’t consume most of what you do and offer. Success no longer comes from doing ‘more,’ but by capturing attention—by doing less, more interestingly.”
  • The rise of digital natives in the workforce. This in itself isn’t the problem; the problem is that many businesses haven’t figured out how to leverage Millennials’ connectional intelligence. “This generation is uniquely equipped to lead to breakthrough innovation in a way that has never before been possible, because it is the first to have grown up in a world of ubiquitous connection,” writes Saj-Nicole Joni in Forbes.

These are all complex and nuanced issues, made more difficult by an environment of constant and increasingly rapid change. The antidote is threefold:

  1. Double-down on your efforts to continuously connect people's work with the broader goals, initiatives, and strategies of the organization. This requires clear and constant communication of those goals. It requires making them visible at all levels of the organization. Print your top initiatives on posters and t-shirts, write them on whiteboards, bring them up in every strategy meeting, ask yourself (and other people) how every task you spend time on ties into higher purposes. See your own and others’ work through the lens of your top objectives at all times. Help each other figure out why the work matters—and to let go of the work that doesn’t.
  2. Push work to people when and where they are so that you combat the distractions that can cause them to lose the thread of the work. You want your people working in ways that keep them energized and motivated. If that means people log in to the virtual office from a laptop in the coffee shop or on a tablet or smartphone from home, make sure they can seamlessly connect to the tools and files they need. 
  3. Put the tools and skills into the hands/heads of your folks so that they are prepared and have the opportunity to do their best work. Streamline what can be streamlined. Automate what can be automated. Free your people from repetitive work so they can think, imagine, and innovate. Provide the digital productivity tools that will supercharge their human efforts.

Said more simply, make the work matter—and make sure the people doing the work know that they matter. (Here’s a guidebook for doing just that). 

An unwavering belief in the importance of the work is the core ingredient of true motivation—the kind of motivation that’s self-perpetuating, infectious, and inspiring. That’s what I care most about as a leader. 

I want to see my people so fired up that they need to give themselves a pep talk to shut it down and go home for the day. If I can foster an environment where that is happening, I’m left with just one job: getting out of their way.


See "Finding and Keeping the Employees You Need in the Age of Purpose" for more tips on how to lead a team of knowledge workers to success.

About the Author

Alex Shootman

As President and CEO of Workfront, Alex drives the overall strategy, vision, and execution for the company, ensuring that Workfront is a dedicated partner in helping its customers transform the work experience. Shootman brings more than 25 years of experience in all areas of revenue and profit generation for technology organizations, with significant experience leading SaaS-based companies. In his free time Alex can usually be found trying to convince his legs that they really don’t hurt on a road bike or running trail, admiring the view from a 14er in Colorado, or down on a reef in his home state of Hawaii. That is if his four kids leave him any free time.

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