This article was co-written by (Roel Trienekens Agile Enterprise Coach at Xebia) and Jordaan Gross (Chief Culture Officer at fabel+)
It's an almost incomprehensible question, “What is my purpose?” Existential by nature, a purpose is our raison d’etre or reason for existence. It’s a question more and more people are daring to ask themselves these days, especially with the new wave of millennials entering the workforce. According to the 2017 “Millennial Impact Report” by Achieve Consulting Inc., “94 percent of millennials want to use their skills to benefit a cause.” People of this generation have a strong desire to make a positive impact in the world, and it’s rubbing off on the rest of their colleagues. More and more employees are asking themselves bigger, deeper questions.
What gives me energy? Why do I get out of bed in the morning? What do I truly care about?
Work is no longer just about getting a paycheck. It’s about having a sense of purpose.
From an early age, all of us yearn to be part of a group, to have a sense of belonging. Often, we find this through achieving something together, either by directly contributing our talents or by association (like cheering on our favorite football team). We all need a shared goal because it gives us a stronger sense of shared purpose. That’s how we feel we belong.
A group of people only becomes a team once they have a common goal. A goal is something we set out to achieve by working towards something bigger than ourselves, something we believe in. A team with a clearly defined and inspiring purpose is often a highly motivated one. Purpose brings focus and helps the team make decisions. Asking the question, “Will this move us closer to achieving our purpose?” provides a quick and definitive answer as to whether or not to you’re doing the right thing. In fact, “intuition” can be just as valuable as cognitive validation. Often a team can “feel” when it's not “doing the right thing” to achieve its purpose, and can then pivot to change its course.
Purpose also generates a feeling of ownership, in both individuals and teams. If you get out of bed expecting to achieve something great, but then encounter someone or something that blocks you, your feeling of “ownership” will incite you to act, because it's your goal that you want to achieve.
A monthly salary doesn't even compare to this kind of intrinsic motivation. When it's only about the money, and not a shared sense of purpose, people are more likely to opt for the path of least resistance. Instead of pushing hard to remove the obstacles they encounter, they fall back on excuses instead. But if explaining that they’re not responsible for something, or why it can't be done, still provides a paycheck, why else would they bother?
A sense of purpose provides the motivation we need to work harder to solve problems and remove obstacles. So, rather than strictly defining roles and responsibilities and focusing on who's responsible for what (so people are frequently checking what they don't have to do), identifying and communicating a clear purpose fosters ownership and intrapreneurship.
The same forces of intrinsic motivation apply to learning and personal development as well. If a person or team doesn’t have a particular skill or capability, the intrinsic drive towards achieving this greater purpose requires us to step up and obtain that skill or capability.
Learning happens naturally in a team that has a strong purpose.
“What is the impact you want to make on the world, your company and yourself?” Ask yourself and your team this question, and give yourself time to “feel” the answer. Discuss it until you find something that resonates and excites you; something that gives you a sense of fulfillment.
We coached a team that, at first, thought its only reason for existence was to execute a credit restructuring process - not very inspiring work. However, after only thirty minutes of exploring their purpose, they realized what they were doing was, in fact, enabling financially troubled companies to stay in business. In turn, this meant that the company’s employees could keep their jobs and that mortgages could be paid and mouths fed. All of a sudden, the importance of the team’s tasks had grown immensely - and so did it's members' energy and dedication towards doing their job well.
A well-defined purpose is:
Inspiring: It should light a fire and passion in you and your organization.
Concise: It should be easily repeatable until it becomes a mantra.
Observable: It should have an observable effect or at least measurable progress.
Defining a purpose is not enough. You need to make sure everyone rallies behind it. A team that believes in it can achieve even the loftiest goal, like putting a man on the moon. A shared purpose expands our sense of what is possible.
So how do you create a shared sense of purpose that persists?
Believe it yourself
Get completely behind your purpose. If you don’t believe it yourself, no one else will either. You have to embrace it 100% to inspire others.
Reinforce it often
Your purpose must be at the heart of everything you do. Repeat and reinforce it as often as possible, even if you think everyone already knows it. Emphasize it as if this is the only thing that matters - because, it is.
Reward the right behavior and share successes
Show people how their actions are making the world a better place. Bring them into contact with people they have impacted. It’s the ultimate reward for a generati- on that lives to achieve something great.
Build a movement, on purpose
What is your goal? Do your employees know and share your passion for this purpose? Do they know what difference they are making in the world?
Fire up your teams, department, and organization by helping people identify what drives them. Inspiring a sense of purpose can transform an ordinary department into a movement. Motivated teams and individuals are more than happy to join you and change the world for the better. So, if you want a high performing, Agile organization, help your employees and teams define their purpose, then shoot for the moon.