The three pillars


I will most likely write this, or a variation of this many times as it’s a rule or method that keeps popping up in many areas of my work. It’s simple, and I’m not sure exactly where it comes from, I suspect that I didn’t make it up and that someone will remind me that it’s someone’s hard researched model. I call it the three pillars, well, I do now. It’s not really got a name, but it’s the three things that I find that everyone needs to be happy or satisfied, to find motivation, usually in a work situation, but it applies in other areas as well.

  1. I know what I need to do
  2. I know how what I do fits into the bigger picture
  3. I know what makes a great job and what makes a poor job

Let’s take an example. Suppose that I’m working on an IT development project, creating a new calendar application for students. I know that, specifically, I need to produce some code that connects to a web calendar and displays some of the events onto a tile on a screen. I know that the calendar app fits into an overall strategy to put as much information as possibly easily into the student’s hands and that has come from feedback from students via a focus group. My manager has let me know that a really good job would look modern and sleek, and ideally fit into a small physical space, she also told me that she would be disappointed if it is simply a list of text items.

Hopefully you can see that in the above example, all three of the basic rules are satisfied. I know specifically what I need to do right now, I know why I am doing it; the bigger picture. I know how to do a great job, and what will not be as good. I feel equipped to proceed and if I don’t have the tools to do the job, I know what it needed and can work out what I might need. I know that I am supported by shared goals with others in the team, or with achieving something bigger. I know what is required in terms of quality and I’m motivated to create something that makes a great job, rather than an average one.

Perhaps think of situations that you come across in your work or wider life and consider what happens if any one of these three are missing. Y

You might know how your job fits into the bigger picture and what standards are expected, but you might not know what you actually need to work on day to day. You’re missing key number 1.  You might think that this doesn’t happen a lot, but I see many, many people that have very practical problems with what they actually need to do. Their organisation or manager doesn’t actually tell them what they should be working on right now, or if they are self-motivating they haven’t made a specific decision on what they should be working on. Of course, there are other models that can help with prioritisation and finding out what you should be working on, but the key point is that you need to specifically know what you need to be doing.

Many people know what to do but they struggle to gain the motivation to do it, because they can’t see how it fits into a bigger picture, so they become demotivated. This is a lack of strategy, the reason why you are doing what you are doing. Many people have the feeling of “going through the motions”, they describe feelings of enjoying mostly what they do, but feeling as though they won’t do it for ever, or that they can’t really understand what’s keeping them in a job. If this is the case, then look for a missing key number 2.

And finally, many are blessed with knowing what they need to do and how it fits in to a wider picture, but they have no idea if they are doing a good or a bad job. They can’t rate and then adjust their contribution, often because of a lack of feedback. I have worked with people who have left a job, even though they were doing amazing work, because they were not getting feedback. I remember watching a member of staff openly crying because they felt their manager never said thank you, and never talked to them about the good or bad things they were doing. There was no feedback, and eventually this meant the even the member of staff’s excellent work could not be sustained.

It might seem basic, and indeed there are many techniques that exist to understand the attempt to remedy specific areas within the three pillars, but as a start, learn to look for one of more missing or crumbling pillars anytime you spot issues of motivation, lack of direction or lack of feedback. You might just be surprised how often they pop up.