The Why of Work: A book review by Bob Morris

The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win
Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich
McGraw-Hill (2010)

Dave and Wendy Ulrich organize the material in this book within a framework of seven questions. As you review the list, I suggest that you begin to formulate your answers. Better yet, write them down.

1. What am I known for?
2. Where am I going?
3. Whom do I travel with?
4. How do I build a positive work environment?
5. What challenges interest me?
6. How do I respond to disposability and change?
7. What delights me?

The Ulrichs devote a separate chapter to each of these seven questions, focusing on real-world situations in which various people address the given issues each query raises. They characterize human beings as “meaning-making machines” who seek and often find inherent value in making sense of life. Such meaning also has market value because “meaningful work solves real problems, contributes real benefits, and thus adds real value to customers and investors.”

In this context, the Ulrichs introduce their concept of the “abundant organization” and identify its dominant characteristics: “a work setting in which individuals coordinate their aspirations and actions to create meaning for themselves, value for stakeholders, and hope for humanity at large”; an organization that “has enough and to spare of the things that matter most”: creativity, hope, resilience, determination, resourcefulness, and leadership; a profitable enterprise that concentrates on opportunities, potentialities, synergies, and fulfillment of a diversity of human needs and experiences; and especially when times are tough, a social as well as economic forces that can “bring order, integrity, and purpose out of chaos and disintegration.”

An abundant organization gives meaning to everyone involved by offering a spiritual as well as physical environment within which to thrive as human beings; their contributions, in turn, create a decisive competitive advantage for the organization while increasing and enhancing its market as well as its social value.

To become and then remain “abundant,” an organization must help its people to leverage their strengths and serve their core values, meanwhile doing so with their career objectives in proper alignment with their organization’s strategic objectives. That is the “Why” of their relationship. In this brilliant book, Dave and Wendy Ulrich also provide leaders with the “How,” the information and counsel they need, to create an abundance of purpose and meaning both for themselves and for everyone else involved, at all levels and in all areas of the enterprise they share.

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