Monday, August 3, 2020

Working with Meaning

akiko naka wantedly

Wantedly Founder and CEO Akiko Naka wants people to lead their professional lives with purpose and meaning.

 

By Daneesh Shahar

 

In recent years, the idea that work could become something more than a means to an end had been brewing in college dorms and company offices. The idea that we should all find meaning in our work is not new, but it has since risen above the empty platitudes like ‘find your passion,’ and now forces more people than ever to re-evaluate why they work. 

 

Larry Fink, BlackRock Chairman and CEO, made the business case for purpose in work in his 2019 annual letter entitled “Purpose & Profit,” where he describes the inextricable link between the two. But beyond the economic advantages of purpose is a realization that we will, on average, spend a third of our lives working – so what we’re choosing to do better be worth our time.

 

Enter Wantedly. The Japan-headquartered social recruiting platform, launched in 2012, aims to facilitate a values- and goals-based match between candidates and companies. All job postings prominently feature the bios of company members, along with sections on what the company does, why they do what they do, and how they do it. Job descriptions in every posting purposefully omit the salaries and benefits for the position, thereby putting the spotlight on the work itself. 

 

Wantedly Founder and CEO Akiko Naka explains the rationale behind the decision: “…money is a very strong force that draws on people’s attention, and so your attention might only go to [that] and you might miss something that you could have discovered.” 

 

To Naka, removing distractions on the site is as important as creating the tools to help spotlight the company’s culture and values.

 

“The salary and compensation you get is equally important [to your decision], but in the first step of discovery, people should be more focused on value and passion and the world the company wants to shape in the future,” she says in an interview with Jumpstart during the Collision 2020 conference.

 

Naka’s strong belief in the power of aligning with your work traces back to her upbringing and own experiences in the corporate world. Her parents, despite the demands and below-market pay of burgeoning careers in academia, loved and found meaning in their work as university researchers. 

 

“I [saw] growing up, my parents loving their work so much. To them, it wasn’t something to pay the bills, it was more their lifelong project,” she says. “They worked on the weekends, but it wasn’t an obligation, it was more like their right.”

 

Her parents were not discouraged by the lack of external validation – social status and high wages – but instead found intrinsic value in what they did. Naka saw the opposite of this during her time at Goldman Sachs as a trader. 

 

“I saw many of my colleagues struggle with peer pressure and societal pressure, and with whether [this] was something they truly wanted to do with their lives,” she recalls. Although the material gratification might be delayed, Akiko believes that doing what you love is worth it.

 

For Naka, the ultimate goal with Wantedly is to “create a world where everyone is excited about their work: instead of perceiving work as a means to an end, turning the meaning of work into the end itself.”

 

The goal is grounded in recent trends in work behavior. Nikkei Asian Review reported that in Wantedly’s home market of Japan, more and more college graduates are forgoing large trading companies for startups and technology companies. The implicit social contract of lifelong loyalty to a company is waning, as newly-inducted members of the workforce now opt for companies that can promise them a steeper learning curve, over those that offer more prestige but may not result in personal development.

 

Data seems to support the notion that productivity and engagement are improved when employees are aligned with the mission of the organization. In Culture Amp’s 2019 Global Diversity & Inclusion benchmark, which surveyed tens of thousands of employees from 200 different organizations across North America, Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), and the APAC region, they found that ‘contribution to a broader purpose’ had the highest favorability score with 91%, followed closely by ‘belonging’ at 78%. Those who scored high in the broader purpose factor turned out to be more engaged (+15 points) than those who didn’t. 

 

Similarly, Deloitte discovered in its 2019 “Purpose is everything” report that purpose-oriented companies had 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors.

 

Uniquely, Naka also believes that authentic interactions are key to a true match between employee and employer. Every job posting on Wantedly has a ‘want to visit’ button that enables prospective candidates to casually meet with recruiters and employees at their offices. She says that although formal interviews are important for standardizing how expectations are managed and how candidates are selected, they’re still part of what she calls “the faking game.” 

 

“Some people are good at interviews, and despite not being authentic or a high performer, they can pretend like they [are]. Some people are high achievers, but they’re not good at presenting themselves, so they fail at interviews,” she explains. 

 

Wantedly’s casual meetups, therefore, act as a filter for identifying the people who truly embody the values and mission of the company, separating the best people from the fakers.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has unsurprisingly challenged the physical social interaction Wantedly’s platform encourages, but the platform has adjusted to social distancing guidelines and now allows employers to signal to prospective candidates that they accept online meetings. That badge is now on 74% of all job postings on the platform.

 

There’s no doubt that workflows and recruitment will continue to be temporarily disrupted by the crisis. But Naka hopes that beyond all the adjustments we’ve had to make to keep life and business going, people will also use this time for introspection, and consider why they wake up in the morning to do what they do.

 

The pandemic has unfortunately devastated economies around the world and has forced many people to be more risk-averse when it comes to their jobs. Though the long-term effects are still unknown, the International Labour Organization estimated that the world saw a 14% decline in working hours – the equivalent of 400 million jobs – in the second quarter of 2020, with the APAC region suffering a 13.5% decline in working hours (~235 million jobs). The crisis has affected virtually every industry in almost every region, challenging how most of us find jobs and therefore what our work means to us.

 

Finding purpose in our work will never be an option for everyone with financial and social barriers to contend with, but for those who are fortunate enough to have steady and reliable jobs, there’s no better time than right now to finally start working with meaning.

 

Header image courtesy of Wantedly.

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