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Diane Solinger, Director of People Experience at Google, shares the keys to finding meaningful work

When I reflect on the best moments over the course of my career, I find a few common factors that made those experiences great.  In each instance, I had a clear set of goals and ownership over how to achieve them. I had great teammates that supported and collaborated with me, and a manager that cared about my success and growth.  Additionally, I always had an emotionally safe environment where I could take some risks and not fear failure. I believe that if we want to have meaning in our work, we need to look beyond the core role for which people are hired and create great work experiences that allow people to bring their whole and their best selves to work.

Creating a great work experience is often summed up in one word, culture. For me to have a meaningful work experience, I need to be in a culture that allows me to thrive.  Over time, I’ve been able to identify some characteristics that are important to me. I check-in on these periodically with myself to ensure I’m in the right culture for me, and I probe for these factors when I explore new roles.

I look for:

1) We over me:

I thrive in a team-goal oriented environment where collective success matters more than individual success.  However, I also believe in accountability so a highly functioning team to me means that everyone is expected to know their roles and pull their own weight.

2) Safe to fail:

I thrive when I can take risks–not crazy risks, but calculated, stretch goal type risks.  I think it’s important to be able to try new things and bring new approaches to problems. But, when the experiments don’t work, I expect to be supported for trying, rather than punished for failing.

3) Striving towards a vision:

I do best when I’m part of a work community aligned towards a common goal — whether that be increasing employee volunteering and giving, or now, ensuring products are designed to work for everyone.

4) Ownership:

I like to know that I can make decisions and own a course of action.  Regardless of my seniority or level, I’ve found that when I know my remit and am given ownership over decisions within that remit, I do best.

5) Fun:

With all the time I spend at or doing work, I better have fun.  Some of my most stressful times in my career are coupled with memories of having the most fun.  I smile and laugh when I think of some of the crazy things teammates and I managed to do with little resources and insane deadlines. I have been lucky to work with people I really enjoy.

6) Learning Opportunities:

Career growth often overshadows what is fundamental to it — learning.  I look at work as a chance to keep learning and as I’ve learned new things, the career growth has followed.  A mentor of mine once said, when we were talking about charitable fund raising, “Ask for money and you’ll get advice.  Ask for advice and you’ll get money.” I think the same is about career growth. Look to learn and your career will grow.

7) A great manager:

Having a great manager is beyond having someone who is an expert in your field.  In fact, that might not be needed at all. Some of my best managers had little expertise in my wheelhouse — I was hired for that expertise, afterall.  My best managers were supportive, caring about me — not just the work, gave clear, actionable, but empathetic feedback, and always, always, always, had my back when I needed them to.

When some or all of these factors were missing I was miserable.  When I’ve been brave enough to hold myself true to these cultural characteristics, I’ve felt lighter, happier, and eager to get to work.  I’m less resentful of the overtime and weekend work and am compelled to do more. I’m flowing.

Having meaning in work is more than our core roles.  We all can find meaning when we’re in a culture that supports our needs and provides an environment and opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.

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Diane Solinger

Diane Solinger

Diane Solinger is the Director of People Experience for a large UX team at Google. She has over 25 years of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility--leading Google’s employee giving and volunteering for 6 years, and prior leading a consultancy that helped hundreds of technology companies develop their CSR programs.

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