We have all been there at some point in our lives; trying to do something that seems so pointless. It may be filling out a timecard with multiple activities, or answering phones only to redirect them to someone else. The tasks seem pointless in themselves, and regardless of the value the task has to someone else, it makes it less of a priority to get done. We often ask ourselves, what is the purpose?
A purpose is a powerful motivator. Nations have gone to war because of a sense of purpose, civilizations have been created and extinguished through purpose. A purpose will guide decisions, justify actions, and inform strategy. It has brought products to market, businesses rise and fall by it, and new technologies discovered every day come and go based on finding a purpose. It’s safe to say that humanity needs to find a purpose to have an impact. In the workplace, there are layers of purpose to be found, though I’d like to focus on three: enterprise purpose, team purpose, and personal purpose.
Enterprise purpose, at least by my definition, is the reason and driving force for the company’s existence. It can be as simple as, “Safeguard your Savings” for a bank, or “Streamline your Work” for process automation. Growing up in the ’80s the media often portrayed the purpose of many a faceless corporate giant as “making more money,” and often “making more money for executives.” Needless to say, it was easy to vilify these entities in various workplace comedies with the little guy having to fight against the big corporate money machine.
Around the 2000s there was a shift, starting with tech companies (at least then the global marketplace) and quickly spreading to other organizations: defining a positive, socially impactful purpose. Google began with “Don’t be evil” as their purpose, and though vague it resonated with employees. Other corporate entities began to see the benefits of sharing their purpose as well: both customers and employees could get behind them. It drove adoption, profits, hiring, and retention. I will honestly say that if I am ever reached out to by another company, I always ask about the company’s purpose. I need to know where they are and what drives them.
The team purpose is very similar to corporate or enterprise purpose but at the team level. It’s all well and good to have a corporate purpose of “End Cyber Bullying,” but where does your accounting team fit into that purpose? Break it down further, how does your internal billing team relate to that purpose? By defining a purpose, decisions are informed by clear guidelines. Teams know what they are doing, and how it impacts the company and customers, and are empowered to make decisions based on that purpose.
It’s difficult to talk about personal purpose without talking about a moral compass. To me, they seem the same. A personal purpose is what you, and you alone, value and desire. It will impact the career you strive for, the length of time you are at a company, and the effort you put in while at a company. If you value titles over opportunity, that will impact job growth moving forward. If your values match well with a company, you are likely to remain longer than if your values are in direct contrast.
For instance, my purpose is to provide future security to my two boys with autism, while inclusively building career opportunities through training and development. I value the importance of family, and I value the importance of allowing everyone to be successful.
When the Stars Align (or Not)
In a perfect world, all three levels of purpose will align. When that happens you see happy customers and employees, successful teams and companies. Everyone is driven by the same goals because they know what they want, what the team wants, and what the company wants. It’s truly magical when that happens.
And when it doesn’t, that’s when you have issues. Employees without purpose or who lack the understanding of their purpose become frustrated. It’s much like being tested on unknown criteria and not knowing the expected results. If you feel that you do not have a purpose for your team or organization, sit down with your manager and work out that purpose. If your manager isn’t sure either, then it’s a good time for both of you to work out clear-cut expectations and how you can meet those expectations. Then you both will be more satisfied with the work and results!