What’s the point of a Purpose?

Having a purpose will help you to feel motivated and drive the work you do. It doesn’t have to be a calling, such as becoming a nurse, it’s about being in a role that makes you feel part of something meaningful, where you can make a positive contribution.

A good example is the story about US President, John F Kennedy’s visit to the NASA space centre ahead of the first moon landing. Walking along one of the spotless corridors, JFK noticed a worker with a sweeping brush, introduced himself and asked him what he was doing. The worker responded “Well, Mr. President, I‘m helping put a man on the moon.” Yes, he was cleaning the corridor, yet in the wider sense, he was contributing to the making of history.

You might not be in a position to make history on quite that scale though you can definitely make a difference. In the working world today, it’s good to know ‘the why’ of working in a certain role or with a particular company or industry. An organisation’s purpose tells the world why they’re in business, drives brand and culture and is a barometer for how they behave. Simple examples include Oxfam: A just world without poverty; Air bnb: Belong anywhere.

Company purpose unclear?
If your organisation’s purpose isn’t clear, ask someone. Depending on the type of company you’re in, they might have a mission and/or vision statement, which is a similar thing. Maybe this hasn’t been defined, you can still think about the wider contribution you’re making.

Personal purpose.
What’s the ‘end game’? Are you sweeping the corridor or helping to put a man on the moon? It’s about connecting the recipient of your performance or the overall impact with what you do. You’re not balancing figures; you’re making sure someone’s hard earned cash is safe and secure so they can enjoy their life more.

How you can find meaning…
Write down the answers to these seven questions:

What impact does what you do have on others’ lives?
What personal skills and attributes are you using and not using?
What are the results of your work/what are you producing?
How much control do you have over how you do your work?
How can you receive feedback about your performance?
To what extent are you able to submit your ideas and feedback?
How can you measure your own performance?
Now think about how you could do it better.

If you’re a leader…
Make sure you’re clear about what your company’s purpose is. You can use this as follows:

Include it in collateral – it’s like a brand strapline
As a barometer when making decisions
To measure whether people/teams/locations are aligned and deal with the shortfalls
In day to day conversations, in your recruitment ads, during onboarding, learning and development and so on
To help people moderate their behaviours – “does what I’m doing deliver on our purpose?”

Here’s a helpful blog.

For all the reasons above, it’s your job to ensure everyone who works for/with you is able to enjoy a sense of purpose. Be aware that this can easily be eroded or lost if a role is so fast-paced and busy that people lose confidence to do it well and/or if they’re micromanaged and therefore lose a sense of ownership and control. The best thing you can do to restore confidence and motivation is to switch from a ‘top-down’ micro-managing style to a ‘bottom-up’ consultative one. This isn’t about abdication; you’ll still need to be clear about what’s expected, that you offer support and encouragement around the ‘how’ if they need it, let people get on with it and then have them report back on their progress. Consider these lists:

Leader
Paints the vision
Change agent
Promotes innovation
Encourages risk
Thinks longer term
Life-long learning
Builds relationships
Coaches + nurtures
Enthusiasm
Fixes
Shows it
Focus on strength

Manager
Sets the goals
Maintains the status quo
Insists on replication
Controls risk
Thinks short term
Proven skills
Builds process
Directs + creates barriers
Fear
Blames
Knows it
Focus on weakness

If you need help with this, talk with someone.

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