The Practice of Purpose

Following last weeks Valentine’s Day edition loving your way to success, today we will look at the 4 different ways that anyone can practice Purpose in the workplace.

Each semester when Amy Wrzesniewski at Yale begins her course on careers, she shares a simple fact that is profoundly upsetting to her students: The average graduate of their program will work for three different organisations within the first five years out of the MBA program. Many of them came to business school to find direction, and to hear that the journey continues so unsteadily after school is disappointing. They hoped they would leave school with it all figured out, but alas – no such luck.

This phenomenon is partly due to the nature of how we learn about ourselves and need to shuffle between jobs to gain experience. It is also largely a reality of the new nature of work which has everyone looking more like a freelancer than a lifer. As Reid Hoffman writes in The Start-Up of You, we are increasingly thinking of our careers more entrepreneurially and see ourselves as start ups, selling our time, talent and networks.

This approach creates a tremendous amount of freedom. We are not tied to one job or employer; we are the masters of our own destiny. But as Barry Schwartz observed, “On the other side of liberation sits chaos and paralysis.”

Understanding the drivers of purpose in your work is foundational to managing the same purpose. If you don’t have basic self-awareness of purpose, it is difficult to know how to productively create the narratives and practices that will work. You need to know the WHO, HOW, and WHY of what generates purpose for you. We have previously explored this in finding your purpose

There are four different ways to make meaning at work

1. Task Focused Purpose

It means loving the craft of your work and overcoming small, task related challenges. Rather than taking a task at face value, the key is to broaden the scope to connect to a broader task to enable one to learn the bigger context which will challenge the thinking and provide growth opportunities

2. Impact Focused Purpose

It means creating ways to see your work as having an impact on others, part of something bigger than yourself. Considerations can include the impact on society, other people, and organisations

3. Identity Focused Purpose

It means getting a sense of who you are and where you are going. This could be who you work for. Who you work with? Is the organisation congruent with your values?

4. Financially Focused Purpose

While money itself is not a purpose, often the reason we need the money is important and purpose-driven. It can be about survival and the ability to meet commitments.

The two responses to danger are fight or flight. When faced with adversity at work, we tend to focus on either changing the situation or running away and finding a different job.

The cliché, backed by research, is that most people take a job for the organisation and leave because of their manager. No manager is perfect, but there are managers who are simply not a good fit for someone, or worse yet, are incompetent and undermining the teamwork of those around them. It may be possible to find a new manger inside an organisation, but if someone is locked into a bad fit, it may require jumping ship.

Another reason to leave is the organisation itself. If the values of the organisation do not align with an employee, it is rarely something that can be fixed – it becomes an issue of integrity. Working for an organisation that does things an employee considers against their values overwhelms any purpose that can be gained by job crafting.

Finally, someone can find that they are in the wrong profession given their purpose drivers. If someone gains purpose from working on policy issues at a societal level, working with individuals without the opportunity to impact large scale change might feel too limiting. At times, it is better to flee than fight. Or, as President Kennedy said, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

It is why it is vital that we all seek Purpose alignment with our employer in order to maximize and amplify our time spent and talent utilized.

What purpose driver ignites your performance in the workplace?

Back to Blog

Get Mark's thought-provoking exploration straight into your inbox