It was the 19th Century’s Frederick Winslow Taylor – one of the first management consultants also known as the Father of Scientific Management – who once theorised: “It is only through enforced standardisation of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that … faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with the management alone.”

Safe to say, this autocratic, rigid approach to industrial relations would find few willing followers today but, as we (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic blinking into the post-lockdown glare, it got me thinking about the role that leaders will have to play in taking the best from the last 12 months and shaping both their own working lives and those of their people. And it’s not going to be Taylorism that wins the day.

The Great Return
Many people will be taking stock of where work sits in their lives as the ‘Great Return’ – whatever that might look like – approaches. And it appears to me that the importance of having significance and purpose at work will play a vital role. There is a huge importance in feeling significant. It’s why some people who don’t feel that they are ‘seen’ resort to becoming significant through petty crime like vandalism or graffiti; it’s a way of gaining that fundamental need to feel significant as an individual. The majority don’t resort to lawlessness of course, but most of us do have a need within us to be seen as of value by our colleagues, with something unique to give; to be significant.

Unfortunately, a lot of the habitual ways of working of pre-pandemic life chipped away at our significance and revolved around working within a routine that was built by others. But as people have worked from home during the pandemic, many of us have begun to experience different things – no commute, seeing more of the family, more time to pursue fitness and hobbies. What the pandemic has done is to reduce and even replace the maddening predictability of life with more unpredictability.

The good news for leaders is they now have an opportunity to build upon the unpredictability that’s enabled people to see that there are alternative ways of living and working, and the possibility of having more influence and significance when it comes to our working lives.

We need to feel we matter
Ultimately, employees need to feel that they matter to their organisation more; that they have become the authors of their own life script at work rather than just a character living out an already written plot. It’s an important theme to think about but how does a leader create this both for themselves and their teams?

As a start, we should engage with our people about what they have learnt over the last 12 months; what matters to them and what they would like to carry forward. Leaders must see themselves more as coaches and facilitators, working to ensure that people feel they matter and that they have some contribution to the creation of the way they work. It’s about helping people to design a new work and life plan post-pandemic and in doing so, remembering that the need for significance matters.

If Taylor approved…
Perhaps the ultimate arbiter should be Taylor. If you don’t think he’d approve of how you’re approaching bringing more significance to your own working life as a leader and those employees within your organisation, then you’re probably on the right track.