Manuel Guillen, RCC-Harvard: Motivation & Meaning in Organizations

I recently had an opportunity to interview friend and collaborator Manuel Guillen, PhD. He is the University of Valencia Representative at RCC-Harvard University (RCC), Associate Professor of Management at the University of Valencia, Titular (UV), and Director of the Institute for Ethics in Communication and in Organizations (IECO). Dr. Guillen is a leading author and professor on meaning and motivation in organizations and at work. His work is both rigorously researched and practically oriented. Of particular note is that he integrates the role of faith and the notion of a higher calling into his analysis. His recent book is titled, Meaning in Organizations: Searching for a Meaningful Work-Life Balance (see details below). Continue reading to view a Q&A between myself and Manuel.


1. Provide us with a bit of context. What is RCC-Harvard and your role in it?

The Real Colegio Complutense at Harvard (RCC-Harvard) is a Spanish center that has been affiliated with Harvard University since 1990 as the result of an agreement between Harvard and Complutense University of Madrid. It is aimed at providing academic, scientific, and cultural cooperation between Harvard University and the Spanish system of Higher Education. As part of an expansion project, RCC Harvard incorporated other Spanish partner universities in recent years; the Universitat de València became a partner in 2015.

I am an Affiliate Visiting Faculty at the Harvard Human Flourishing Program and the representative of the Universitat de València at RCC-Harvard. My role is to build, implement and support knowledge networks and bridges with Harvard through a variety of study groups, projects, and programs.


2. What is the connection between meaning and motivation in organizations?

What motivates us all, what drives us in life and at work, is the pursuit of those things we consider "good," the things we love. Therefore, I synthesize all the human motivations in a simple "map" of human goods. Once the internal logic of this map is understood and its coordinates recognized, it allows us to identify four meanings of work and to show them in hierarchical order. I argue that behind our motivations, the goods we pursue, lie different meanings of work.


3. You have an assessment tool. What is it and why did you develop it?

This assessment tool is a simple web app that asks you whether you see your work as a "job", a "career", a " calling," or a "higher calling". So, you can take the quiz and discover your motivations and the meaning of the work behind them. After taking the quiz most people realize that they could give a higher meaning to their work.

To take this assessment, visit Manuel’s site HERE.


4. Why do you look at the pursuit of meaning in relation to job, career, calling, and higher calling?

When work is seen as a "job" it is perceived as a way to make a living, a path to material compensation. When it is perceived as a "career" it becomes more meaningful, a path to success, achievement, mastery, and status. Over and above these meanings, the secular concept of work as a "calling" gives daily tasks a sense of fulfillment, prosocial benefits, and the purpose of contributing to something good. Finally, work understood in a spiritual sense can be conceived of as a "higher calling" or a vocation that has a more transcendental meaning and purpose.


5. Please explain “higher calling” in more detail.

Perceiving your work as a "higher calling" implies understanding it as a call to something greater than yourself, something transcendent, which can transcend time and space. It requires a higher level of attention, dedication, and docility to spiritual insights. The origin of this call may be simply spiritual for some, and religious-spiritual for others. In the case of the latter, believers in God, this would be a "divine calling," a vocation to an encounter of love with God through your daily work, thus giving back the gifts you have received.


6. Where do you see your own personal journey in those categories?

Harvard professor Donna Hicks probably answered this question in the foreword of my recent book when she wrote: “Professor Guillén has answered his highest calling by thinking deeply about the topic of human motivations and has done it with such loving intent. His commitment to love and dignity, and for him, a connection to a Higher Power, is what motivated him to write this important book. He has given us the tools to learn how to create meaning, purpose, and a life of fulfillment, not only for ourselves, but also for the organizations that enable us to do what we love.”


7. How has your analysis been received by students at Harvard and elsewhere?

This analysis is being received initially with curiosity, both by students at Harvard and in many other parts of the world. After the initial curiosity, and once they have done their own self-assessment, it has been a life-changing reflection for some. Many comment that they had never stopped to think about these issues until then. For most, it has meant a radical change in the way they conceive now their studies and their personal and professional future.


8. Many academic analyses of meaning at work don’t incorporate a spiritual dimension—why is that?

Unfortunately, for decades in the academic world, there has been an artificial separation of the social sciences and the humanities which has caused us to reduce our analysis of reality, and human reality, mainly to what can be directly observed and measured. As I explain in my book, sooner or later it was necessary to refer to the spiritual and religious dimensions of human behavior because they are part of the reality of millions of human beings.

Want to learn more about meaning in work and life?

Read Dr. Guillen’s book for free by clicking the links below:

Download a free copy from Amazon HERE.

Get a PDF Open Access Free Copy HERE.

Get the book in Spanish HERE.

Manuel Guillen Book