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To Inspire Good Work, Make Job Meaningful

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- Successful small-business owners think of their careers as far more than a job. They wouldn't have taken on the financial risk and stress that comes with a startup if they weren't motivated by a strong sense of mission.

But can the same be said for employees? The company may be the boss' baby, but workers who don't share in its purpose will be little help in moving the business forward. If you want to grow your company, you've got to find ways to make your employees as invested as you are.

"Meaning matters," says Dave Ulrich, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and co-founder of the consulting firm The RBL Group. His recent book The Why of Work, co-written with his wife, psychologist Wendy Ulrich, gives leaders specific tools for building meaning in the workplace from the executive suite on down.

"When employees find a sense of meaning in their work, they work harder at it," Ulrich says. "What would otherwise be a normal activity takes on much more where there is a sense of meaning associated with it. Think of a restaurant, movie, song or place that you shared with a loved one. The emotional appeal surrounding the activity gives it an increased sense of meaning."

When it comes to making work matter, smaller companies have some advantages over their larger competitors. They're more likely to be led by the person who started the company and has a personal stake in its success. Such leaders can influence their co-workers more immediately and effectively than middle managers at multinational corporations, who are many layers removed from the upper-level decision-makers.

"Share with your employees a sense of ownership and participation," Ulrich says. "Model for them what delights you about your company and what gives you passion."

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