Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Do You Work?

I guess everybody has a couple of "favorite" interview questions. One of mine has always been to ask "why do you work"? If you have never tried it, give it a go, you get some interesting responses aside from the normal "to pay the bills."

Over the years lots of people have asked me that question in one form or another, or if it hadn't been asked, it certainly is something I've thought about a lot. As a recovering HR person, I guess it would come as no surprise when I tell you I learned long ago that money is not what motivates me.

This all came up for me again a few evenings ago when I had the chance to have "reunion" dinner with our Sr. Contributing Editor Joe McCool and Bob Benson, Chairman of Slayton Search Partners. I have known Bob for years as has Joe, but I had not seen Bob since he returned to the U.S. after working in Europe for several years. It was a fun evening to say the least.

Especially when Bob asked me how things were going at ExecuNet. Since he and I are roughly the same age, and I was well aware of the passion he has for his work, I knew he could relate to my reply. What I told him was that aside from the fact that things were going very well in the network, in terms of job satisfaction, this has been the most exciting and rewarding experience of my career.

The reason it is, I told him, is that we felt so blessed to be able to make our living from being able to help as many people as we do. It was a tremendously satisfying feeling. He knew exactly how I felt.

In fact, I went on to tell him that while we had lots and lots of members who when they joined were all looking for senior executive jobs, and many of them got the next gig after responding to one of our postings, that since most people make a change via networking, that I got a much bigger kick out of the emails that we get from members who have made a change and who tell us how helpful we were to them as a resource as they managed a job change.

So all this was still fresh in my mind when I walked in the office today and found the following email from a VP of Marketing member which said in part:

"Your firm and what you teach via ExecuNet has been invaluable to me. My life is much better, different and more rewarding as a result of the opportunities and jobs I've had, the skills I have learned and the people I have met. Thank you! You all do important and life-changing "stuff"!!!

Maybe a lot of people would tell me to "get a life" in terms of what turns you on, but as I told Bob and Joe, I live for this stuff. It's why I work.


Kent Blumberg said...

What a great question! I'll use it from now on.

It strikes me that this is the first question we should ask ourselves when we are seeking a new job. If we don't know "why we work", how can we possibly find the best next work to do?

Your post also reminds me of the question of financial incentives, and whether or not they are effective motivators. In "Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-truths, and Total Nonsense," Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton report on research that shows most of us tend to believe that others are motivated by money, while we believe ourselves to be motivated by other factors. Perhaps the way to design effective incentives for the people we work with is to truly understand why each of them works.

Dave Opton said...


I have seen studies throughout my professional worklife that tell you that money while important to us all, is a short term motivator.