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The Significance of Significance

It was a free-wheeling conversation, and at one point, she said, frankly and reflectively, “You know, sometimes I feel insignificant. I’m not sure if what I am doing matters.”

At Peepul, our people are our secret sauce – we hire exceptional talent with a passion for impact in education, a growth mindset, and a core set of coachable skills. We grew the team from 45 to 90 over the last year, with half the team hence having joined virtually.

Over the last few weeks, we have tentatively ventured back to working out of our physical office, in a staggered manner. One day, I struck up a conversation with a colleague over tea. She was one of those who had joined us post-pandemic; she has been with us for just about a year and is a bright spark. While we had interacted on and off during the year on work, this was the first time we were speaking in person. It was a free-wheeling conversation, and at one point, she said, frankly and reflectively, “You know, sometimes I feel insignificant. I’m not sure if what I am doing matters.”

This took me a little by surprise – I knew that all of us saw her as an enthusiastic and reliable colleague, I had never considered that she may be feeling that way. I went on to share with her, genuinely, how her work – project-related coordination with hundreds of teachers and school inspectors –fit in with the broader project; how it required a certain skillset in stakeholder management and counseling, and how someone else with the same tasks may not be successful; how the fact that she had been pulled into recruitment-related activities additionally was an indicator of our trust in having her as the face of the organization to potential hires.

While she left the conversation with a smile on her face and the sparkle back in her eyes, I was left contemplative. A memory came back to me – of when I had felt the exact same way:

While in college, I was in the hostel band – usually, playing the part of the backing vocals (i.e. singing the harmony to the main singer). One day, during practice in our hostel’s music room, I said, “You can hardly hear my singing on top of the guitar, drums, bass guitar and the main singer. I might as well not be there.” It was said flippantly, but I was only half-joking: I genuinely didn’t know if anything I did matter – it wasn’t the main act anyway! Hariharan, the band leader, turned around to me and said, perplexed at, “Of course what you’re doing matters. You’re singing the harmonies in perfect pitch – it’s not easy to get it right. The song would be so much lesser without it.”

I remember how uplifted and validated I felt then, and how it changed my relationship with my singing in the band – I knew what I did matter, no matter how insignificant it seemed to me, or how effortlessly it came to me. It impacted me so deeply that I remember it so many years later. It was only later that I came across the quote that fit the situation, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.”

When I shared the draft of this article to the teammate, for her permission to share this story, she agreed readily, and shared with me her perspective on our conversation, “The conversation enabled me to look at the bigger picture when I feel ‘insignificant’ or ‘not valued’. I also realized that when I’m so comfortable in my role that I know I can’t fail, is when I need to have a conversation with my manager and find new workstreams to grow further in and learn to excel!”

And hence, here is a PSA to all organization leaders: you are in the privileged position of having a wide-angle view of the organization: you can connect the dots across ongoing efforts, have a sense of the organization strategy, know the pipeline of initiatives planned, know how each person in the organization is doing.

With this privilege comes the onus of timely, appropriate, and effective sharing of knowledge and perspectives to team members, especially around the big picture – how their work adds value to the program strategy, and where the program/function they are in fits in with the organization’s strategy.

Spend time talking to your team. Tell them how much their work matters. Tell them why you think they are best suited for the role they are playing, and the strengths they bring in. Let them know they are significant. You won’t regret it.

Source: Business World

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