Last time, I teed up a discussion about team member satisfaction, and focused on the relationship (or lack thereof) between satisfaction and productivity.  This time, I want to focus more on designing for satisfaction.  In other words, how can we create workplaces that generate higher levels of satisfaction?

I’ve written about this before, so I went back to the archives and pulled a few older blog posts that I think are still good.  Let me know what you think.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Three key things lead to satisfaction: meaningfulness, awareness, and responsibility. One of the most natural things people do is to search for some kind of meaning or purpose for their lives. It seems to me that because we spend so much of our lives working our jobs, we ought to be able to derive some meaning from those jobs. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

If we want satisfied workers (and you should because they are more likely to come to work and more likely to share an idea if they are satisfied) we have to make the work they do meaningful.


There are three parts to meaningfulness: significance, variety, and identity.  All three need to be deliberately designed into the work.


1. Make people feel valued. 

Everyone has something to contribute. Be grateful for their work (say Thank you!) I had a boss once who would never acknowledge the skills and abilities I brought to the job, focusing instead on reminding me consistently that if it weren’t for all the support staff we had, I could do nothing. I loved that job, but hated the leadership, so I had to go. The support staff was great, but that’s not what I – or anyone – really wants to hear.  Acknowledge the gifts everyone brings to work.

2. Require them to become experts in their jobs.

Let everyone know that the jobs they’re doing aren’t simple-minded, menial jobs. They require expertise, so build that expertise by developing, teaching, and supporting standardized work.

3. Link them more closely to customers.

If people can see how the work they do affects customers, they will usually take more pride in what they do. Collect more customer feedback and share it all with your people (not just the customer complaints.) When customers come visit, create opportunities for them to interact with your people. Place pictures of the end product or of individual customers who have benefited from your product or service in prominent places throughout the workplace.


Variety is fairly straightforward.  Studies have consistently shown that when people have a variety of things to do during the work day, they are generally more satisfied than those who simply do a single repetitive task.  What makes this difficult is people get comfortable with tasks they are good at, and will trend toward limiting themselves to just a couple of jobs they like.  That means the jobs that aren’t so nice have to get done by relatively new or potentially unskilled people.  Often these unpleasant jobs are quality critical or difficult.  Leaders need to balance the good jobs with the crappy jobs and let everyone have a chance to develop the skills to do them all.  The only way to do this is to create a physical structure that only allows the work to be done properly.  More on that in a minute.


Identity is a little more complex.  First, the grandfathers of satisfaction studies, Hackman and Oldham, focus on “task identity” rather than simply identity.  The work itself should provide a level of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.  That is, it is more satisfying to make a complete product than to simply add one small part to a larger product. The more people feel they contribute to satisfying a customer directly, the more satisfying the work (this is also part of significance).  People like work they can tell other people about.

But identity goes beyond the work.  Studies of intrinsic motivation cite affiliation with others as one of the critical elements.  Maslow included “Love Needs” in his original dynamic theory of human motivation, explaining how important it is for people to build interdependent relationships with other people.  These relationships create feelings of belonging to something larger and more significant than just themselves.  (So we’ve hit significance yet again.)

To satisfy both of these pieces of the satisfaction puzzle, leaders should transform the workplace so that the work required can be completed by a relatively small group of people, who can become a team.  Teams provide an almost magical multiplying effect to a workplace when they are structured and developed properly.  Note that I said we have to transform the workplace rather an simply select groups of people to be teams.  Teams require a common goal, so the work itself has to be that common goal.  I’ll have a separate piece on teams in another post, but the short version is that we can satisfy people’s need to belong by building an effective team; and we can deliver variety in the workplace by having those team members rotate between the several jobs the team must do to satisfy customers.

Action steps:

  1. Take a hard look at the work you have people doing.  Use Value Stream Mapping or Process Flow Mapping to really understand what has to happen and the way it’s happening now.
  2. Reorganize the workstations so that 4 or 5 people can work in close proximity on a single product (whether it’s an administrative report, a supplier contract, or a manufactured product).  Assign these 4 or 5 people to a team.  Set moderately aggressive production goals for the team to work toward.
  3. Assign a team coordinator to provide support and feedback to the team.  This person should be skilled in several of the tasks the team has to perform so they can coach the others through their cross training.  It is not essential that he or she be expert in all the tasks to begin with, but he or she should be skilled in learning and in teaching (a great place to develop this skill is with Job Instruction Training following the old Training Within Industry methods developed in the 1940’s.)
  4. Take the team and the team coordinator through a series of team building activities so they can get to know each other better.  This builds trust among the team that’s essential for successful team work and completion of products.  Have them come up with a team name that is unique but relevant to the work they do.
  5. Put a cross-training chart on a team information board to keep track of who has completed which of the functions required to complete your product.  Make a plan to get everyone to an expert level of competence in all the workstations they will rotate through.
  6. Spend some time everyday with the teams you create so they know you support their efforts to be successful.

As always, I welcome questions and comments.  Please send them in an email to us at