BRINGING PURPOSE TO LIFE AT WORK
By Pauline Bergin Feb/March 2016
“Clarify your purpose – what is the why behind everything you do? When we know this in life … it is very empowering and the path is clear.” Jack Canfield author, The Success Principles.
In my last blog I talked about having a life or personal purpose – putting some clarity around why you exist, your reason for being. Now let’s take that a step further and explore the importance of purpose at work, of working towards a known purpose. This has long been a high priority for me and I was recently reminded about it’s importance, not only for individuals in relation to their role but also for organisations who employ people to achieve their organisational purpose. There has to be a purpose for both (individual and organisation) and the two must be in synch!
I was talking to a colleague about challenges they’re facing at work, specifically the feeling that they’re spinning their wheels, unmotivated and just filling a role rather than achieving anything really significant; their heart just wasn’t in it anymore. The idea of finding a new job was seriously being considered. But would a new job eventually just turn out the same?
I asked a few questions about their role, its purpose and how it linked to the organisation’s purpose as well as their own personal purpose. My colleague was lost for words – whilst the organisation’s purpose was publically displayed, and the purpose of their role was loosely familiar to them, their meanings were vague and how they linked had never been explored. As the saying goes ‘to a hammer everything’s a nail’ because its purpose is to embed nails. If it’s off target the nail is not embedded and the force and weight of the hammer damages whatever it hits, including your thumb! Likewise, if you don’t know your purpose your efforts could at best be futile and you could even be doing harm! I’d love to have had the opportunity to talk to my colleague’s manager to establish their perspective on purpose at work.
PURPOSE AT WORK
Similar to personal purpose, the reason a person exists in the world, purpose at work provides a reason for being at work, clarity about what one is working towards and what drives them to continue. Whilst your purpose relates to your personal betterment, knowing that your purpose is for the betterment of others, something bigger than you and those around you, gives you the motivation to follow it. It brings contentment, meaning and wellbeing to the individual and they are good to be around, so others benefit too.
When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment
around a common purpose, anything is possible. Howard Schultz, Starbucks Founder.
Equally important is the organisation’s purpose that succinctly describes why it exists and what it’s aiming to achieve. Many employers are only concerned about the purpose of their organisation or service in terms of product outputs and dollars, and don’t readily see how an employee’s personal and role purpose impacts on the level to which they engage in their work.
Leaders can make the mistake of developing the organisational purpose without genuine consultation with employees and fail to reflect the purpose in individual roles. Employee engagement depends a lot on employees feeling that their contribution is valued. Both the employee and organisational purposes must align if a shared purpose is to be achieved in the most efficient and effective way. A manager must be able to articulate this synergy and support employees to fulfil their purpose. And an employee must be able to see the connection between the purpose of their job and their personal purpose – how it helps them be themselves and live their dream; otherwise they are unlikely to engage.
Figure 1 illustrates the challenge of communicating purpose at all levels. A purpose set by the leader who spends 90% of their time communicating with 10% of their staff makes a dangerous assumption that the purpose is communicated effectively to a large proportion of their staff. If they don’t take the time to personally engage with service interface staff, which can make up 90% or more of the organisation’s workforce, their meaningful purpose is likely to get lost in translation.
IS YOUR JOB FIT FOR YOUR PURPOSE?
As the Confucius saying goes “Choose a job that you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. But that’s all fine if you know your purpose and there are jobs available that fit your purpose. Sometimes people end up in a job that does not and may have few options for moving. The answer may lie in knowing your personal purpose and that of your job role. So the first step is knowing your personal purpose. The next step is knowing how your job supports you to live your purpose. This may be as basic as your wages allowing you to provide a safe and comfortable home for your family, or to pursue activities you enjoy, or that you like meeting and interacting with people. Or it may be more profound like feeling useful and valued, making a difference, or feeling that you’re contributing to the local community. The next step is knowing the purpose of your role and how it helps the organisation to achieve its purpose, and finally examining whether the organisation’s purpose aligns with your own.
This knowledge can help you focus on what’s important in your role and to negotiate a change or different focus if you feel it does not align with the organisation’s purpose, or your own. In diagram 2 the notes for consideration should help you decide your next move – if you’re on a completely different trajectory you may have to rethink your job!
Diagram 2 Aligning Personal and Career Purpose© 2016 7Senses Consulting.com.au
WORKING ON PURPOSE… … FOR PURPOSE
So back to my disillusioned colleague: I proceeded with some gentle challenge about how they work in a system that doesn’t appear to value their people. When I ask the question “what makes you continue to work here in a job that demands so much of you personally” (especially relevant in healthcare and service industries) the answer is often ‘for the money’, ‘to pay the bills’ or suchlike. Referred to as ‘white-goods’ employees, their interest in their work is that it allows them to buy the things they need and desire. Then I usually proceed with lots of why questions – why do you want to buy xyz, why is that important? And to every answer I continue to ask why that’s important until people who say money’s the reason, start to see that their job is about more than the money; it’s about family, safety, comfort, and actually serves a purpose. My colleague finally realised that they were unsure why they are still in a particular job that their heart was not in – they expected it to be different or they’ve lost interest or things have moved in a direction that doesn’t sit well with them. And now I’m helping them with decision-making about their next career move – to put their heart back into their work!
People who lead successful organisations know that having a purpose creates better public relations, customer loyalty and employee retention (multivariablesolutions) so doesn’t it make sense to ensure individuals are similarly guided by their purpose?
At 7Senses Consulting we guide people to define and take action towards their purpose everyday. Get in touch today – email firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources used in this article:
Robinson, K. (2009) The Element: How finding your passion changes everything.