Creating Challenges

In his post , “Reasons to Work” [], Seth Godin (marketing/leadership best-selling author) lists 8 reasons why people work. Godin makes the point that money and pay is often the most emphasized, yet other factors actually play a much larger role in our work place and career satisfaction. Some of the reasons listed include for the pleasure or calling of doing the work, for the impact it makes on the world, for the reputation that is built in the community, however, number 2 on the list, below money, is to be challenged.

Often times, it is easy to get excited about the big projects then, when they are over, slip into workplace discontentment. Sometimes the daily grind, the day in and day out routine, lose its challenge.

Bill Hybels, leadership expert, says that people perform at their best when they are slightly over-challenged. We all fall into one of the three categories, under challenged, appropriately challenged, or dangerously over-challenged. The under challenged do not have enough interesting work to keep them engaged. They are not provided with enough work to do. Unable to find contentment or purpose in their work, the under challenged usually leave organizations for a more challenging position.

The appropriately challenged usually have just the right amount of work and tasks to accomplish. However, they are not being stretched and are only maintaining what is currently in place. They are not advancing the organization or improving its service to the community. They are not creating.

The dangerously over-challenged are working themselves to death. Often, this comes with a high cost to their families, health, and general quality of life.

Most employees fall into the upper under challenged/lower appropriately challenged area (see yellow box). Resulting in employees that are largely unhappy with their work, merely going through the motions, and not producing at their highest level; their full potential to the community and organization is never realized.

Our best work is accomplished when we are working and functioning in the lower third of the dangerously over-challenged level (see red box). In this position we are continuing present responsibilities while being stretched and encouraged to grow our organization and its impact in the community.

As an employee it is your responsibility to bring yourself to the appropriate challenge level. If you fall into the dangerously over-challenged category, what can you do to decrease some of your work load? Do you need to delegate assignments or train others on how to assist you? Maybe its as simple as a discussion with your boss. If you are under challenged maybe you need to create something new, start an initiative, look for gaps in service and find ways to fill it. Stretch yourself, and take on projects that seem beyond your capabilities.

As a leader it is part of your responsibility to ensure that your employees are being adequately challenged. Do you know your employees well enough to determine what challenge level they are currently at, what level they are capable of, and what level they need to be stretched to? What do you need to do to increase (or decrease) their challenge level?

When you find yourself lacking motivation and slipping into routine, create something challenging.