S is for Satisfying Work

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This article focuses on how you can do satisfying work and also earn a salary. Pursuing this path can help to stimulate your soul, satisfy your basic needs and help other people to achieve success.

“The world of work keeps changing,” people may say, “so how can we help people to shape their futures? It is hard to know what skills they must learn to be successful.”

Perhaps, but as the saying goes: ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same.’ Creative people throughout history have followed certain themes to get paid for their work.

They have built on their strengths, found sponsors who paid them and delivered success. People who develop such eternal skills are more likely to shape their futures. Let’s explore how this works in practice.


Michelangelo, Anita Roddick and Steve Jobs had at least one thing in common. They did what they did best and got somebody to pay them for doing it.

Some customers will always be interested in buying quality. And the best way of producing quality is to develop your top talents.

How can you clarify your strengths? Here are some questions it can be worth considering.

What are the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver As, rather than Bs or Cs? When do you feel in your element – at ease and yet able to excel? What are the activities that give you positive energy – even when you just think about them?

What are the activities in which you see the destination quickly? When do you go ‘A, B ___ then leap to ___ Z’? Where do you have a track record of delivering Z?

What are the situations in which you quickly see patterns? Where do you have good personal radar? Where do you seem to know what will happen before it happens? Where do you also have the repertoire to deliver the right results?

Where do you make complicated things look simple? What are the situations in which you are calm? What are the activities in which you are good at creative problem solving? Where do you naturally focus on the 3 Cs: Clarity, Creativity and Concrete Results?

What are the activities in which you score highly on drive, detail and delivery? Where do you have the equivalent of a photographic memory? Where do you always do the basics and then add the brilliance? Where do you reach the goals by adding that touch of class?

What is your successful style of working? Looking back, what for you have been the most satisfying ‘projects’? What was satisfying about them? What were the principles you followed to be successful?

Looking at these projects, can you see any recurring patterns? Bearing these in mind, what do you think may be your successful style of working? How can you follow your successful style in the future?

What would be your perfect project? What for you would be the most stimulating kind of project, with stimulating people in a stimulating place? How can you find or create such a project?

Let’s assume that you have explored your strengths. Building on your answers, try to summarise your findings. The exercise invites you to take the following steps.

Describe the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver – or have the potential to deliver – As rather than Bs or Cs.

These may be particular kinds of projects, tasks or other activities. Try to be as specific as possible. Give concrete examples. Please note. The emphasis is on the word deliver.

Describe the activities in which you deliver Bs or Cs.

The B activities are probably those that you can do reasonably well. They are not your As, however, or maybe they were once but now you get bored doing them. The C activities are those where you have little aptitude or desire to learn.

Describe how you can build on your strengths.

Try to be as specific as possible about how you can continue to develop in the activities that you do best.

Describe how you can, if appropriate, manage the consequences of your weaknesses.

This may or may not be appropriate. If it is, describe how you can manage the weaknesses that could hurt you in a particular role.

Describe your best contribution. These are the specific things you can deliver to a potential sponsor – a customer or employer.

The emphasis is again on what you can deliver, not what you can do. Lots of people can do lots of things, but customers or employers buy what you can deliver.

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Anybody can do work they love, the art is getting somebody to pay you for doing it. Creative artists have faced this challenge throughout history.

So how to find sponsors – customers, managers or employers – who will hire you for what you do best? Try tackling the exercise on this theme. It invites you to take the following steps.

Describe your perfect customers.

Start by identifying the kinds of people with whom you work best. Who are your favourite customers? What makes them special?

Alternatively, if you mainly work within an organisation, think about your ideal employer or manager. What makes it good to work with them? What are the personality characteristics of your ideal customers, employer or manager?

“I work best with achievers,” said one person. “They love to set goals, work hard and achieve success. I guess many people would describe similar characteristics, but I have deliberately targeted these kinds of customers.

“Many of my clients have humanistic values. They want to create an inspiring environment that encourages people to do their best. At the same time, however, they are prepared to take tough decisions.”

Describe what you believe to be the challenges these people face and also their picture of success.

Look at the world from their point of view. What are the challenges they face? What are the results they must deliver? What are the kinds of things they will want from a supplier to help them to succeed?

Imagine you are working directly with customers. What do they want delivered? They will definitely want good service.

They may also want help with tackling specific challenges and making their lives simpler. They will certainly want help in achieving their picture of success.

Imagine you work mainly within an organisation. Your internal customers are your colleagues, manager and the directors. What do they want delivered?

Most employers want to improve the 3 Ps. They want to improve their profits, product quality – including processes and service quality – and people. You can help them tackle these challenges and also achieve the organisation’s goals.

Describe how you can use your strengths to help these people to succeed.

People buy success, not the theory of success. Bearing in mind your strengths, describe the specific things you can deliver to help the potential sponsors – customers, manager or employers – to succeed.

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Let’s imagine that you have met with your potential sponsors and they want you to help them to achieve their goals. You can discover more about ways to reach such people via the following link.


Clarity is crucial in any relationship. This is especially so when you are providing a service to people. So it is important to make clear working contracts. Here are some steps you can take towards delivering success.


Start by making crystal clear contracts about the ‘What’. If appropriate, say to the sponsor:

“As far as I understand it, the results you want delivered are:




“Is there anything else you want delivered? What is your picture of success? What will be happening that will show we have achieved success?”

Clarify what must be delivered and by when. Play back your understanding of these aims to make sure you both have the same picture.

“Sounds okay, but what if my sponsor doesn’t have a clear picture or has not yet formulated their goals?” somebody may ask. If this is the case, be proactive and professional.

Decision makers normally want to improve one or more of the 3 Ps: their profits, their products – including their product quality, processes and customer satisfaction – and their people.

Bearing these goals in mind, clarify what you can deliver to help them achieve these results. Translate these into deliverables and share these targets with your sponsor.

You can then clarify the agreed picture. If the sponsor is still unclear, you can continue working and doing your best. But at some point it may be worth considering finding another manager who you can work for. Clarity is crucial if you are going to have any chance of success.


Agree on the ‘What’ – then move to the ‘How’. Clarify the broad principles of ‘How’ the sponsor would like you to work to reach the goals.

A warning sign can be bosses who insist on a detailed ‘painting by numbers’ process that they will police. Good leaders manage by outcomes, not by tasks.

Such leaders want their people to take responsibility. They also want to be reassured that their people will deliver the required results. So do your best to put their minds at rest. You must, of course, deliver.

Clarify the Dos and Don’ts for working well with the sponsor and say how you will proactively keep them informed. Agree on the resources needed to deliver the goals. For example, make sure you have the right balance of accountability, autonomy and authority.

“Certainly I am prepared to be held accountable,” said one manager, “but I also require autonomy and authority.

“My last job turned into a disaster. Flattered by the approach, I accepted the role without making clear contracts.

“Accountable for turning around a team and hitting a huge financial target, I did not clarify the autonomy and authority.

“When aiming to make radical changes in the team, for example, the company said I must keep the same people. So I was trying to climb a mountain with several people who did not want to be mountaineers.

“Now I make crystal clear contracts before taking a new role.”

Conclude the contracting session by, yet again, playing back what you believe to be the ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘When’. If appropriate, put it in writing, such as an email or project plan.

Certainly it is okay for contracts to evolve, that is a fact of life. The re-contracting process can then be done by referring back to the original agreement. Clarify what has changed and work together towards the new agreed picture.

Concrete Results

Success provides it own arguments. Sponsors need reassurance, so produce some quick wins. This will buy time and give you chance to get on with the work.

Be proactive, keep the sponsor informed and report progress towards achieving the goals. You can perform superb work, find solutions to challenges and deliver success.

Imagine that part of your role involves leading a team. You will need everybody in the team to demonstrate great service towards both internal and external customers.

How to make this happen? One approach is to gather people together and ask:

“How can we produce some early successes? How can we be proactive and keep our sponsors informed? How can we make sure we deliver the goods?

“If we were outside suppliers on a 6 month rolling contract, how would we behave?

“Would we behave any differently from how we do now? How can we display the same sense of urgency, stay close to our sponsors and help them to succeed?

“When are the key dates – such as the quarterly reviews, etc. – when the sponsors will make emotional decisions about whether or not we are delivering the goods?

“How can we stay ahead of the game, anticipate their agendas and keep satisfying our sponsors? How can we build a reputation for delivery?”

Great performers follow this discipline all the time. Continuing to keep in touch with their sponsors, they keep focusing on clarity, contracting and concrete results. This provides the platform for achieving ongoing success.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. It invites you to focus on how you can deliver the goods. For example, it may be useful.

Describe the specific things you can do to deliver some quick successes.

Describe the specific things you can do to proactively keep your sponsors informed about your progress towards achieving the goals.

Describe the specific things you can do to provide great service, deliver the agreed results and help your sponsor to achieve success.

There are many ways to do satisfying work. One approach is to build on your strengths, find sponsors who want to hire you and help them to achieve success.

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