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Thomas Bertels | Purpose Works Consulting
Designing Work To Be Fit For Humans
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In this episode

Thomas Bertels of Purpose Works Consulting is on a mission to help businesses design work to be fit for humans. By that, he means you have to design work intentionally to make it intrinsically interesting. He observes that too many job descriptions are just copy-pasted from one to the other. Thomas provides the four factors that make work motivating: 1) is the work meaningful? 2) are we responsible for the entire work product from end to end? 3) do we have the autonomy to do the work? and 4) do we have feedback from the work itself? Thomas implores us to reverse the long held view that you hire the hands and get the brains for free to you're hiring the brains in the first place. Listen to the end to claim the valuable gift that Thomas is offering our listeners.

A glimpse of what you'll hear

03:49 We design jobs without thinking about what makes work intrinsically interesting

06:53 What people want and expect from work

08:02 Work is the product and the employee is the customer

10:43 The benefits from making work more meaningful and purposeful

14:54 5 things you need to do to make work meaningful and purposeful

18:48 Learn about Thomas. Email Thomas at You can call him at +1.917.754.8047.

Episode Transcript
(Note, this was transcribed using a transcription software and may not reflect the exact words used in the podcast)

Centricity Introduction  0:04  


Welcome to the Best Kept Secret videocast and podcast from Centricity. If you're a B2B service professional, use our five step process to go from the grind of chasing every sale. to keeping your pipeline full with prospects knocking on your door to buy from you. We give you the freedom of time and a life outside of your business. Each episode features an executive from a B2B services company sharing their provocative perspective on an opportunity that many of their clients are missing out on. It's how we teach our clients to get executive decision makers to buy without being salesy or spammy. Here's our host, the co founder and CEO of Centricity, Jay Kingley.


Jay Kingley  0:43  


I'm Jay Kingley, co founder and CEO of Centricity. Welcome to another episode of our Best Kept Secret show where I am happy to welcome

Thomas Bertels partner in purpose works consulting, which is a boutique management consulting firm, serving companies up to 5000 employees, and $1 billion in revenue. He's on a mission to make work more productive, valuable, impactful and meaningful. Thomas is based in Summit, New Jersey. Welcome to the show, Thomas.


Thomas Bertels  1:17  


Very, thank you so much for having me. 


Jay Kingley  1:20  


Thomas, I want to share just a little story with you as we get started. I was 21 years old. I had just graduated as a chemical engineer from Cornell, I had accepted employment with the DuPont Company, I moved down to Augusta, Georgia working in Aiken, South Carolina, it was my first week of work. One of the guys in the department in his early 60s was retiring. They did the obligatory little speeches, coffee and cake in the afternoon. I didn't want to go cuz I didn't even know the guy. But I was told you had to show up. So I stayed in the back of the room, listened to everyone speak highly listen to his gratefulness and appreciation. Now, about two hours later, I was going up to my office on the second floor, took the back staircase. And as I started to walk up the stairs, who should be coming down this particular gentleman. Now he's in his 60s, I'm like 21, what was going through my mind was awkward. But we met in the landing. And I felt like I had to say something to him. So I congratulated him on his retirement. And I said to him, it must feel great to look back on such a wonderful career and everything that you had accomplished. Because at 21. That was what I was hoping that professional world was like, and you can imagine my shock and dismay when he said the following to me. He said, I have hated every minute that I have been here. This has been an absolute hell hole. I can't wait to get out of here. I wish I could have done this years ago, but I had bills to pay. And with that, he smiled. He continued on his way, I went up to my office, I stared at a dry wall with nothing on it for an hour fighting back the tears, because I knew I was going to spend the majority of my waking hours as an adult at work. And this is what I had to work to look forward to Thomas. From that instant, I began to wonder is work broken? And what is the problem? So let me put it to you. Have things changed in the 35 years? Since that happened? Maybe even closer to 40? But or are we still fighting this issue of a broken work environment? 


Thomas Bertels  4:03  


Yeah, I think in my view of I think how we, I think define work and design jobs, there needs to pay attention to what makes work intrinsically motivating. I mean, the reality is, like most of the times when we create a job, or a job description, we copy and paste, right, we take something we had before, and we replicate that, right? And so as a result, by this, we can go from that state as an industry go from one employer to the next slide, you see the same kind of job designs perpetrating themselves and the reality is that we very rarely design work to be good for people. And what I mean by good is that there's a couple of factors that determine how we experience work, who we experience work to be intrinsically motivating, and six factors, right so one is the word meaningful in itself by contributing to something that's bigger than ourselves. that matters to us. Are we responsible for an entire work product from beginning to end? Or do we just do a small sliver of that? It can be used variety of different skills? Do we have autonomy? In doing the work? Which means can we decide how and when we do the work? Do we get feedback from the work itself? Right? Do we have the right tools and technology. And so if these factors are not present in the job, then that tends to be a bad job, that tends to be not very motivating, which leads to high turnover, low employee engagement. So you can imagine the scenario, right? If you take something like yourself, right, you start your career, you're motivated, right? You got skills, and you've been put into a role like that. But what happens over time, right, you become depressed, you become resigned, but eventually, right, if you see other options you leave. Right. So I think the fundamental issue, I think that we have is that, that the work that the way that we created, the work is not designed for humans. And now the pandemic, I think, is now really forcing people to rethink our work it's done and where work gets done. And so I think it's really a great opportunity, I think, for employers, to rethink that and redesign work to be fit for humans.


Jay Kingley  6:05  


You know, Thomas, one of the things that I have seen is, there's a very one I'm going to call task driven view of how we think about work. So I'm running a department of some kind, I look at everything that I am supposed to get accomplished, as told to me by the people above me, and I say, how much headcount do I need to get all this work done? And then I, you know, fight for the headcount in my budget. And then you're right, we put together a job description, which is what it's really about, hey, this is the work that I need you to accomplish. But because it doesn't address any of these other factors that you're talking about, I think it breeds over time, not just a I'm going to be looking for greener pastures, but a cynicism that says it's all the same everywhere. So now I might as well get the most money for doing the least amount of work in the best conditions possible. Because there's nothing more than that. Do you think that's a fair view of how so many companies are thinking about it? incorrectly? 


Thomas Bertels  7:19  


Yeah, I think I think that that's absolutely correct. I think we're looking at, but it's already in the title of the HR function. Right? It's human resources. So I the three resources we use, right. And I think that's, I think, fundamentally, I think misses the point is like what people want from work and increasingly expect from work, right, which has worked to have a purpose to be something more meaningful. And the bottom line is right, having meaningful work and, and being productive. That, but there's no, there's no contradiction, right? You can have, we can have the cake and eat it, too.


Jay Kingley  7:58  


So Thomas, given that we've just talked about the issues and the challenges. How should companies be thinking about doing this in a very different way? What is the right mindset, and the path forward to fix this issue? And I said, Oh, it's all right. Everybody says, What is the most valuable asset that I have in my business? It's my people. And yet, we don't design what we want them to do to be consistent with their most valuable asset?


Thomas Bertels  8:32  


Yeah, I think that's absolutely true. I think you got to look at the you got to look at the work that you have as a product, and the employee as the customer. Right. And I think that I think these have done a really interesting past, right? So in order to attract these customers, what do you have to offer, I think you have to offer a meaningful experience by that that's intrinsically motivating for people. And how you get there is surprisingly simple. It's really around, like, that's organized people around the world product that they can own and be responsible for beginning to end. But let's cross train people, right, so that, you know, we understand and can do the work that the job that ends before and after, right? Let's create a different direct customer relationship. So we're not relying on the supervisor to give feedback. But the work itself provides information as to how we're doing. All right, you got to have effective technology. Right? But but those are some of the design principles that you can apply to deliver more intrinsically motivating work. And interestingly enough, maybe some of your listeners are familiar with that took the Lean philosophy, right that companies like Toyota have brought to bear right, it's the same principles. So I think we're basically just applying I think what companies in the industrial space I think, have figured out a long time ago, right that it doesn't really, right. It's a it's a fallacy to think about We're just hiring people for their hands, because we get in the brain for free. Right. And so let's, let's activate that. Let's tap into that. And, you know, I think the difference fight, I'm sure, as you've seen the difference between having an engaged workforce, right, that wants to work in fields accountable, and people who are just there to get a paycheck, right? It's a difference like day and night.


Jay Kingley  10:18  


I actually love that. We hire the hands, and we get the brain for free. How about we hire the brain, and we get the hands for free them, and boy, that that I think really changes how one looks at it. So it's such a critical issue. So many businesses really struggle. But as you point out, once you change your mindset, then the path forward in terms of how you need to organize the work, and what your guiding principles are, and how you make it meaningful and purposeful, now seems attainable. But let's try to understand the impact when you make that shift. And let's start with decision maker. Maybe it's the CEO of business unit manager, even someone in a support function, like HR, when you make this change to make work meaningful and purposeful. What's it do for them individually? What to do for them emotionally?


Thomas Bertels  11:25  


Well, I think what it does for them emotionally and from a business perspective, right, I think I think it has a I think it has a tremendous impact on employee turnover. And if you think about like, right situation that we're in today, we're in a war for talents, right. And I think the pandemic, right, a lot of people a lot of time to sit at home and think about what they want from work and what they get from work. And they've seen that there's oftentimes a big discrepancy, right? Yes, the grass might not always be greener on the other side. But I think a lot of people tended to explore that, right? And anybody who was, you know, has responsibility for people and had to hire and find new people, I understand what kind of burden that is. And so I think you're you're right, if you got the right players on the team, you want to keep them, right. And so I think there's a little bit peace of minds, right, because people that are have an intrinsically motivating job, a lot less likely to change and look for greener pastures, right. But beyond that, I think going down this work design path, I think it unlocks tremendous potential in terms of organizational effectiveness, and productivity, if you break down the functional barriers, you have teams that own the work from beginning to end. So now you need less supervisors and layers and layers of hierarchy to make sure the work gets done. Right. Right. And you also eliminate a lot of work, that's not mission critical. And the other side benefit you get, especially if you're customer facing, if a lot of your work is customer facing, you get a dramatically improved customer experience, because you create a direct relationship between the team that does the work and the customer. And so that opens the door to every employee being an antenna out there for you know what customers want, and really, by providing, like input that you can then use to be more innovative and differentiate in the marketplace.


Jay Kingley  13:21  


So we're talking about the impact on both recruiting and retaining our staff. And after all, we've been hearing for years in years, how we are increasingly becoming a dominant knowledge based economy. And in that world, if I don't have the staff, as we were mentioning earlier, right, hire the brains get the hands for free, then I am not going to be competitive. But you you also put something else interesting on the table, which is this idea that the employees are really representing the company in the marketplace to clients, the employees are your brand, they represent what that brand stands for. So it's not just about recruiting and retaining employees, it's also about the consequence of how that helps me get more customers and hold on to those customers for a much long period of time. So you're talking significant revenue benefits and significant benefits on the cost side.


Thomas Bertels  14:26  


Absolutely. So and you know, I mean, if you can put that in real numbers right? So I think companies are going down this path turnover visie becomes non existent, right, it drops dramatically. And you also get a substantial reduction in costs, right? Because if you think about all the all the investment that goes into the hierarchy, and all the supervisors and managers and directors and senior directors and associate vice presidents and suppose if you need to manage the work, right, so that typically collapses and then you can really create a much flatter organization which then also becomes much more responsive, right? So so I think you become more responsive in the marketplace, you become more accessible to customers, right? So there's really literally like an endless list of benefits that you can tap into. And it's always in your control, right? Because we ultimately right can say, you know, we want this job to look differently.


Jay Kingley  15:17  


You have put forward, I think, a really compelling alternative to how you can make work, meaningful and purposeful compared to what is if I can say, is pretty much the status quo, which is the antithesis of that, then we've talked about the benefits, and the benefits are compelling. So if I'm sitting here, running a company or a significantly sized business unit, and I'm saying, okay, Thomas, you've made that compelling case, give me the five things that I need to do to implement what it is that you're saying, what would that look like?


Thomas Bertels  15:55  


I think the first thing you got to do is you got to make sure that you have leadership buy in and commitment. And it boils down to is their alignment between the worldview of management? And what's what this approach requires. So if you think that people are lazy, and I need to be constantly supervised, and if the if then I can't be supervised, right? They're going to screw things up. That's not going to work, right? Because the fundamental premises that the people that will do the work are the ones that have to redesign it and own it. So if you're not willing to let that let them have that ownership, right. That's not gonna work. So you got to make sure that that, you know, management philosophy is aligned with that. And also the leadership teams behind that, because this is not easy, right? We know that dealing with humans. And driving real change in organizations. That's not easy. It's much easier to buy a piece of technology. But you know, less sustainable, right? I think the second thing you got to do is you really got to assess how people across the organization experience work, and see where the where the weak spots are, because it's not going to be across the board universal that but every job is horrible, right? You might actually have a lot of jobs that are designed well. But the question is like, Are there areas in the organization wide, where you really have problems with job design, from a work design job design perspective. And so we're using the sort of base approach that basically measures how motivating people experience their work, which points us towards where these areas of opportunities are. And then once you know where the opportunity is, the third step is to really scope that out and identify a couple of Lighthouse projects where you can demonstrate the power of this. So that means right scoping it out. But again, making sure that people understand what we're doing, why we're doing it by that this is not about cutting headcount as a force, and then you got to basically provide people with the was the training and coaching to do the sweet design work. Alright. And then lastly, I think once you get the design implemented by the really goes into making the sustainable, alright. And so that goes into it, investing in plus training employees, and also making sure that your organization is prepared to, you know, go through that valley of despair, that that always happens when you do a major change fired initially, the performance will always drop until people settle into the new reality and the new rhythm. So that in my view, is the five steps you would have to take in order to make work design of reality. 


Jay Kingley  18:25  


You've given us so much to think about, we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to actually learn a bit more about Thomas.


Centricity Introduction  18:38  


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Jay Kingley  19:36  


Welcome back. We're talking to Thomas Bertels, a partner in Purpose Works Consulting and Thomas, I'd like to find out a little bit more about you and your business. Let's start with what are the pain points that you help your clients get rid of, and why do they need you to get rid of that pain?


Thomas Bertels  19:58  


The fundamental pain point that we're trying to address is that that work is broken, right? And that organizations really need to redesign work to be more effective, and also to attract and retain the key talent. And so that's the mission that Ron had to make work more productive and valuable, but also meaningful and impactful

Jay Kingley  20:18  
The number one reason I always remind people that we hire another firm, particularly in the professional services arena, is not what they do, but how good they are at doing that. So let me hit that one on the head with you, Thomas, what is it that makes you great at what it is that you do?


Thomas Bertels  20:40  


I think what makes us great is that we tailor our approach to the client's capabilities and culture. Because every organization is different, they all have a different level of resource, they have a different history. And so it got to be fit for purpose. And the second thing we do is we use a core design approach, right? Because again, but we realize that the client has to have ownership and skin in the game, as we're doing this, if this becomes like the purpose works, design or solution, then we fail, right? It has to be this. And the third thing that we do is that we really get their people to do the design work. And and the intent there is for them to own the solution, but which unlocks continuous improvement, and makes it sustainable and viable in the long run.


Jay Kingley  21:24  


I encourage everybody to go on to LinkedIn look up, Thomas Bertels, get a feel for his extensive experience his education. And I think you'll begin to understand the foundation on which he's built his business, and why he is outstanding at what he does. That said, Thomas, I want to ask you a slightly different question. I'd like to understand what happened over the years, if you will, well, it'd be it in your personal life or your professional life that would help us understand why you're doing what you're doing


Thomas Bertels  22:03  


Yeah, that's a that's an excellent question. So I spent the first two decades of my consulting career working with a lot of companies, right from like fortune 50 to smaller organizations, to improve business processes and create efficiencies, right? So the lot of like Lean and Six Sigma work, where you look at business processes. And what I realized is that in most of these change efforts, really, right, we do everything, right, we look at the customer, the process, we look at the strategy, and we do right the redesign work, and we forget to pay attention to what happens to the organization and specifically the people who have to do the jobs, right, that have been changed by what we do. And, and I realized also right, working with clients that a lot of jobs are not motivating, right? But people do them right, but they don't like doing them. And as I became familiar with the work design framework, which has been around for five decades, I really realized that that's the missing piece to improve organizational effectiveness and create meaningful work for people. 


Jay Kingley  23:11  


This is really just the start of the conversation on a topic that is this important and critical. I am sure that a lot of people who are listening in would love to reach out and continue to dialogue with you. So how best for them to reach out and contact you?


Thomas Bertels  23:32  


Yeah, the best. The best way might be an email, right You can also call me at 917 754 8047. Or you can visit our website at www.purpose. works.

Jay Kingley  23:47  


And we will put all of Thomas's contact information along with the link to his LinkedIn profile in the show notes and as an insert into the video, make it easy for everyone. Now, Thomas, I have really learned a lot. But even more than I learned. It's very inspirational in terms of wanting to go out and make this happen. And I really thank you for coming on today. And in doing that for our audience, but I'm I can't shake this belief that I think maybe you could do just a little bit more, make this an even more valuable experience for our listeners. So I'm thinking there's got to be a gift or something you can give the people who are listening to just add even more value. What do you say? 


Thomas Bertels  24:46


Well, Jay, you're twisting my arm here on AI. But so one thing I could offer to your business, right, if they're interested in exploring whether there's an opportunity in their organization and that we could do a free initial assessment, using our survey methodology to help them get some insights into like how their team experiences the work. So be happy to do that. And, you know, when they reach out, it's happy to arrange for that.

Jay Kingley  25:20 

Alright listeners, this is what you're going to do. You're going to either send Thomas an email or give them a call. They're gonna say, Thomas, I heard you on the Best Kept Secret show. I want that free gift in the survey and point me in the right direction. So let's take advantage of the generosity of Thomas's gift. Thomas, I want to thank you so much for being a terrific guest on The Best Kept Secret show to our listeners. Let's continue to crush it out there. Until next time,

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