Good Work

The question of what it means to be a professional was explored at length in PRB’s September and October 2007 issues (“How Professional Are You,” Parts 1 and 2). One conclusion was that some managers aspire–or are inspired–to achieve a special type of professionalism referred to as a “calling.” This was explained as a harmonious combination of internal and external perspectives about skill set, motivation and perception.

In their book, Good Work, noted psychologists Howard Gardner (multiple intelligences), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (flow) and William Damon (morality) examined what it means to be “called” in relation to finding personal and professional fulfillment by producing high-quality work that also has a positive impact on society. The authors’ basic question is, In these challenging times, can people be both excellent and ethical?

Four Powerful Forces

The answer seems like a simple “yes,” but four forces in the modern world create scenarios in which managers are faced with difficult choices:

· Powerful technologies

· The growing dominance of the competitive marketplace

· The decline in a shared meaning of “ethical” behavior

· A reduction in the number of people who can be viewed as role models.

Outcomes influenced by the four forces have consequences for individuals, their agencies and society that are positive, negative or both.

For example, communication technology allows managers and staff to be “available” 24/7, but may interfere with their own recreation and leisure; budget issues can tempt public-sector agencies to hike user fees to increase revenue, but shut out people who earn lower incomes; mandates for higher productivity can tempt people to cut corners; and executive bonus payouts can influence staff to sell out or drop out.

Aligned Versus Misaligned

Balancing the four forces is alignment, while an imbalance among them results in misalignment, measured according to three criteria (see figure):

1. Quality or level of performance (low to high)

2. Effect on the individual/agency/society (positive or negative)

3. Matching decisions or actions to internal and external financial expectations (operating according to the organizational type: e.g., public, non-profit, or market).

Each of the criteria involves ethical choices that affect excellence, and also the degree to which agency employees “get into the flow” of what they do. The least desirable scenario exhibits low-quality, financial shenanigans and a negative impact on people. Conversely, excellent quality created within an appropriate financial philosophy that benefits everyone produces the feeling of fulfillment associated with good work.

Graffiti As A Financial Asset?

When I presented at a conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 2008, one of the political issues being debated was the fate of a small graffito depicting Star Wars’ R2-D2 spray-painted on an alley wall. To some officials it was an example of pure vandalism, an embarrassing defacement of property that collectively “costs local governments over $260 million a year to clean up,” according to an ABC News Australian report. This scenario represents maximum misalignment. However, the story took a fascinating turn when a “positive” development was introduced.

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