Helping Employees Fulfill Their Dreams

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

We all want careers that are purposeful. Nobody wants to find themselves in a dead-end job. We want to be allowed to dream of better things. We believe that God is calling us to go further up and further in, not only in our relationship with him, but in the work that we do for him.

According to Monique Valcour at the Harvard Business Review blog,

“Job seekers from entry-level to executive are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job. The vast majority (some sources say as much as 90%) of learning and development takes place not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through new challenges and developmental assignments, developmental feedback, conversations and mentoring. Thus, employees’ direct managers are often their most important developers.”

The burden, then, is on leaders to help people to fulfill their dreams. Valcour continues,

“Consequently, job candidates’ top criterion is to work with people they respect and can learn from. From the candidate’s viewpoint, his or her prospective boss is the single most important individual in the firm.”

Leading People with the J-Curve

When venture capital investors put money into new start-up companies, they understand that their financial outlay will yield an initial loss in profit, but they are willing to risk this investment in exchange for potential higher returns. The J-curve describes what this looks like: If you were to graph it, you’d see what looks like the letter J—an initial dip when the profit is negative as a lot of initial finances are pumped into the company, followed by an incline over time as the investment yields a healthy return.

We might want to think about leading people with the J-Curve—investing in them up-front so that they can flourish later. This takes effort to know who people are and what they dream to be. This requires a long-term vision of what will be needed for each person and for the institution to thrive, but it pays off in the end for both.

In “Helping Employees Dream: Taking Care of Your People,” Bill Hendricks writes about leaders who have proven that investing in people actually is good for business. He writes about three companies that make heavy investments in their people to help them discover their giftedness because the bottom line is only achieved through people. “The burden is on leaders to help people to dream about how their work matters and to discover their giftedness in order to fulfill those dreams.”

Providing Space

What is the connection between helping employees dream and an institution’s health and prosperity? Google famously allows their engineers to “take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally.” Allowing their engineers to dream about the things for which they are passionate actually has mutual benefit: they find great satisfaction in their work while they utilize their gifts to produce new technologies for Google. Gmail was just one of many new products that has been the fruit of “20% Time.”

How can we give people the space needed to live their dreams in and through their work? There is a distinction between vocation and occupation. Vocations are callings—the things that God has gifted us to do for the sake of the world around us. Occupations are jobs—the work that we are doing on a day-to-day basis. In a perfect world, our occupations would be perfectly connected to our vocations. But in a fallen and broken world, often these are harder to connect. But God is sovereign, and there are connections if we look for them.

In "Helping Employees Dream: Create Space,” author Billy Coffey tells a great story of how his boss helped him with his dreams. He worked for years at a gas station just so he could fill his notebooks with story ideas as he would meet and get to know the characters that would come to the Amoco. His boss, of course, wanted him to pay attention to actually doing the job for which he was hired. But he understood Billy’s dream to be a writer and helped create the space for that to happen.

Learning to Live Proximately

Steve Garber, in his book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP, 2014), writes,

“The world is a hard place to live, but there is nowhere else to live. So if we are going to be honest, we have to live with what is proximate.”

In other words, things are not the way they are supposed to be, and they will never be (that is, until Jesus returns). In response, we can either throw our hands up in despair or we can roll our sleeves up and get to work … knowing that our work can only get us a little closer to God's just world.

But this is the work of a Christian in this broken world—to see the cold hard reality of things and to do our part to bring those things more proximate to what God wants. To see injustices and to work for righteousness in the midst of evil. To see hurting people and to show compassion. How can employers provide that to their people so that when dreams are shattering, there remains hope for a better tomorrow?

In “Helping Employees Dream: The Day My World Crumbled," Dan King explains that a good leader is more concerned with people than projects. Dan and his wife were shaken by the news that their little boy had diabetes. But then they received a call from Dan’s boss. The compassion he showed Dan and his wife gave Dan the strength to navigate through that terrible time. “That was the moment when the ground beneath me stopped feeling so shaky."


Helping Employees Fulfill Their Dreams

The TV show Undercover Boss gives employers a unique opportunity to spend a few days in their employees' shoes. CEOs and Presidents of large and successful companies go undercover and do the work of people who work on the front line every day. Through this experience, the employer often gets the chance to hear the dreams of their employees firsthand. Hearing the hopes and dreams those employees have for their families, their futures, and themselves often becomes the catalyst for the employer to help make those dreams come true.

Not every employer gets a chance to spend a day in an employee's shoes, but each employer/employee relationship is worthy of faithful and compassionate stewardship. Every interaction is an opportunity to lead from the soul. In this series, Helping Employees Fulfill Their Dreams, we'll explore what it means to lead from the soul in our relationships with our employees, even if we never make it on a television reality show.

Featured image by Francesca Guadagnini. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.

Graphic designs by Bob Robinson.