How To Cultivate Meaning And Purpose At Your Company?

authentic purpose, meaningful work

I used to work for a company that had a mission to be the world's premier analytic consultancy. I always wondered what that actually meant. Hearing their mission statement never elicited excitement. Frankly, it sounded somewhat hollow and self-serving. While innately, I knew that there had to be a better way to inspire and motivate people, I did not learn how to do that until I read Zach Mercurio's book The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose.

Mercurio defines purpose as our reason for existence. He sees purpose as a way to transform lives, organizations, and the world, but he goes even deeper than those generalizations. He explores the idea of authentic purpose, which is "a person or organization's genuine and unique reason for existence that is useful to others in society."

More than ever before, people desire purpose in their lives. They want to contribute and have a positive impact on society. The default measures of success, such as money, status, and prestige, have become meaningless when the world faces so many monumental challenges.

After reading Mercurio's book, I understood why I was not inspired by my old company's mission statement. That statement was all about results; it described what the company was trying to achieve, but it never talked about the why. Why did the company want to become the world's premier analytic consultancy? How did it benefit other people? None of it was relayed in the company's story, and as such, the work lacked purpose. As Mercurio mentioned, purpose is the reason for existing, and asking people to work hard to make their employer the world's premier analytic consultancy does not generate emotional commitment that is needed to cultivate meaning and purpose.

Purpose is a critical element in motivation and building high-performance organizations. Awakening purpose, which is "the belief that we and what we do matters", will be a vital leadership skill in the future. According to a 2014 Gallup study, employees who have a clear sense of purpose are four times more likely to be engaged in their work. That sense of purpose comes from a connection to the larger society, knowing that what they do matters, and ultimately, believing that they matter.

When companies do not have a clear purpose, they adopt other people's purpose or even their competitors' purpose. This is why it is often hard to know what a company stands for as the company's messaging sounds exactly the same as everyone else's. These organizations miss an opportunity to develop an authentic purpose that gives them a competitive advantage.

A purpose statement, unlike a mission statement, draws on people's emotional desire to connect with something bigger. People do not emotionally connect to solutions. Human beings are moved by human problems, which is what empathy is, and empathy leads to innovation and creative ideas.

Dr. Ali Binazir, a professor at Harvard University, quantified the chances of any of us being born. He considered the chances of our biological parents meeting, the chances of each of their parents meeting, and so on from the beginning of time. His calculations showed that the chances of each one of us ever existing are 1 in 102,685,000, which is a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeroes. We can agree that it is a highly unlikely event, almost an impossibility. Dr. Binazir cites a definition of a miracle as "an event so unlikely as to be almost impossible." By that definition, he proves that each one of us is a miracle.

If being alive is a miracle, then why would we want to squander it? We spend close to 40 percent of our waking time at work. This means that company leaders are responsible for 40 percent of other people's lives. As Jim Collins said in Good to Great, people cannot have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Mercurio argues that leaders have a moral responsibility to design an environment that fosters meaning at their organizations.

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