Putting Purpose to Work

By October 10, 2018Leadership, Purpose, Teams

Hey Team,

The article I read in HBR this summer that really got me jazzed is this one about creating a purpose driven organization, the one on the cover of the latest edition. In it Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor lay out why purpose in organizations is so important and what it can actually make possible. Helping people and teams connect with their purpose at work and beyond is my big passion and I want to share my take on this article PLUS some things you can do to move your team or organization forward on that purpose path.

If we were at some fun end of summer gathering chatting over tasty beverages and you said to me: “Tell me what you do in one sentence” I would take a big sip of said tasty beverage and reply “I help people and teams find and do the work that really matters”. Here’s the thing: All over the world people get up and go to work every day for 8, 10, 12 or more hours at a time. We spend more time at work, with our co-workers than with our own loved ones. For all the reasons, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones, our colleagues and employers to make that time matter, to make our work meaningful. It’s not huge news as some great research has shown over the past decade from The Gallup organization, Shawn Achor, Annie McKee and Richard Davidson to name a few, that when we feel like what we do matters we’re more engaged, creative, productive, happier and healthier.

Here’s the thing: We’re not brought up to think that meaning and work let alone purpose and work go together like oreos and milk or lime and whatever is in that summer beverage of yours. There are a whole lot of us who were trained to see work as a big transaction. You show up, you do your job, you get paid. If you do your job really well, you get promoted and get paid more. If you don’t do your job well, or if the numbers aren’t matching up then we put up some rules and regulations to get you to put your nose to the grindstone and work a little harder.

That approach worked for a while last century, especially when so much work was focused on manufacturing. Although not typically a pleasant experience, that approach can also work to get short-term results. It doesn’t take into account much of how we actually operate as human beings, what motivates us, what energizes us, what matters to us, and that’s the real problem. Organizations that have energized employees who show up and go above and beyond, that have that “feeling” you get when you walk through their doors of “this place is cool”, whose employees are constantly talking to their friends about the awesome things happening at work, who’s numbers are definitely adding up to profit- those organizations have unlocked and connected their purpose with every single person that contributes to it. In other words, everyone knows what they’re there to make happen together, why it matters, and what they can personally do to serve it forward.

The highest functioning teams, regardless of industry, are the teams that come together and leverage each other’s strengths to solve a problem, overcome a challenge and make something important happen. Being purpose driven is core to our humanity- we’re all searching for a sense of purpose, and in that purpose we find a sense of belonging. While it all sounds right on, many of our workplaces are far from being purpose driven, at least in the everyday grind. So how do you actually start becoming more purpose driven at work? Here’s what we do when we work with teams and organizations at all levels:

Get clear on who you are and why it matters

You’ve got to take the time to get people together and create a shared sense of what you’re all about as an organization or team: what you do and why and what matters most to you. Some people call this vision, mission, values and each have a critical role to play in creating a solid alignment among your people. You need a big vision that focuses you together on the long-view aspirational direction you’re heading in. Your mission is your purpose, what you do and why you do it. Your values are the beliefs and principles that guide you in making decisions- it’s a set of what matters most. We help teams articulate these through shared narrative so everyone contributes their stories and experiences to weave one shared story of where we’re going, what we do and why and what matters most. It can take anywhere from a day to six weeks depending on how many people are involved, but if you haven’t done this or you haven’t refreshed these in a while… it’s real important.

Once you have them- use them and make them into stories. New hires- need to connect with the stories of purpose, the stories of why you’re here. They need to know why you believe what you do, and how that translates to decisions. Anytime there’s a transition, you go back to the foundation of what matters and why- to help people find the stability and inspiration of your purpose. See more below about leaders as connectors and storytellers.

Create a shared sense of the future

You can have a shared sense of purpose, but it doesn’t mean much unless your purpose is activated. The first step to making your purpose come alive is making sure that everyone has a shared sense of the future that they get to contribute to. We do this through a planning process called the agile canvas that starts with dreaming together. We know we can’t possibly predict or determine the future, but when we have shared dreams- we see opportunities in the present with a different lens and we take initiative toward them. If your team isn’t aligned and energized about their future- it’s worth the investment of time to get them dreaming and planning toward what they most want to make happen together. When everyone is working from the same roadmap that they are part of creating, you’re helping to build trust, initiative, passion and creativity.

Build the habit of celebrating impact

Here’s the deal: We have to see the good we make happen in order to keep doing more good. This is one of the easiest things to get going on immediately especially for leaders. At any touch point:  team meeting, huddle, conversation, communication, email, newsletter, post etc. at least weekly share a story, experience, moment, image of how people in your organization or on your team helped to create something good, meaningful, helpful. I recently heard about a gym that put up images of their members doing things that matter to them in their lives like playing with their kids, running a race, hugging their partners so they could literally see the reason they go and put in the hard work to get and stay in shape. A hospital that shares stories of healing with staff, a paint company that shares how adding vibrant colors to a pre-school brightened the days of staff and kids… you get the idea. Find as many ways as possible to show your people how what you do together matters.

Learn together… always

We’re wired to learn and learning has never been more vital to the success of teams and organizations as the pace of information and communication continues to accelerate. Purpose driven organizations put learning together as a priority knowing that to stay relevant we have to experiment, test and try, research and discover. Here’s the action: at least quarterly, have intentional learning conversations with your people- get them to come up with and share their learning questions; what it is they are curious about, want to learn more about, know more about, get better at or try. Your people need to be working from learning questions that help them grow in the ways that your organization needs. Agree on how you’ll support their learning and what kind of feedback and regular check ins you’ll commit to along the way, share you own learning questions as well so they know that you’re all in this learning together.

Develop your leaders as storytellers and connectors

We all know that leadership is changing, but if it’s not changing at the rate you’d like… then try helping your leaders shift into becoming better storytellers and connectors. That old school model of leaders being responsible for all the answers and having all the knowledge- we can’t do that anymore. Leaders in purpose driven organizations use stories to teach, inspire and connect. Purpose driven leaders are constantly getting people tapped into shared motivation, inspiring possibilities, lessons and wisdom by using the most effective connection tool on the planet: stories. Need a place to start? Thrive At Work Partner Jack Ricchiuto is masterful. Check out some of his stuff here. The other thing purpose driven leaders do is make connections, all the time. Connecting two people together who don’t know each other around an important project or initiative, connecting a strategy to an emerging project, connecting an idea to a resource and on and on.

Connect personal purpose with organizational purpose

Organizations that take purpose seriously and reap its rewards put their people first. They know that everyone has their own sense of their own purpose, and they feel a responsibility to help them first connect with that inside themselves. Then they help them connect their own sense of purpose to the organization’s purpose- finding the pieces and parts that align so they can live out their fullest potential through their work. It’s not magic, where all of a sudden you find your purpose and you wake up living out your best life at your job and there are rainbows and jellybeans and it’s sunny everyday. It’s a process, and it emerges over time, but it starts with people getting to know their strengths and their passions, the real, deep ones not the assessment you took last week. Then they build on that with their own understanding of their beliefs and values and at each level they’re seeing the connections and possibilities with their work. They get clear on their own dreams and see which ones could become possible in their organization and they see how where they are now could help support where they want to go. Organizations who support their people in their own intentional growth will always find the connections to their larger sense of “why”. We have your back on this one too. If you want to dig into your purpose- check out our Beyond Purpose Retreat near Cleveland this October.

As we look into the future of work with all the changes and transitions it promises, at the speed at which we’re asked to attempt to keep up, at the way a new generation approaches work and the ways in which we most want to spend the precious time we’re all given everyday, we have to ask ourselves: “What are we doing if we’re not connecting people with meaning at work?” I don’t care what kind of work it is. It’s only when we show up feeling like what we do matters, that it’s helping someone or something in a good way, we’re going to truly find the potential we hold for each other.

Questions or want to chat more about purpose? Check us out at www.thriveatworkteam.com.


Jen Margolis

About Jen Margolis

My passion is helping people find and use their strengths to move toward their biggest vision. My career began as a community organizer with refugees and grew to designing and facilitating programs for international professionals including grassroots women leaders in Egypt. These experiences led me to management consulting focusing on strategic planning, leadership development, community and education based program development and executive coaching.