Can purpose-driven workplaces be created?
Purpose. It’s something we’d all like to find in our work as well as in our everyday lives. We’re seeking it both as individuals and as teams, so we can be clearer on why we do what we do, and ensure we gain more fulfilment from work while making a contribution to the people and world around us.
But what does working with purpose mean, how do we find it, and what happens when we do?
ReadyTech invited the founder and CEO of eccoh, Ian Lowe, to talk with our team about the fundamentals of purpose, as well as how we can all leverage it to create great work. While he had a wealth of insights to share, here’s just four we think could help educators and employers.
Do today’s workplaces nurture a sense of purpose?
Unfortunately purpose is missing from many organisational cultures today - and as a result, is failing to fuel their individuals and teams. Statistics from analytics and advice firm Gallup indicate that only 15% of employees are engaged in their work around the globe (leaving 85% disengaged or actively disengaged). In Australia, we do a little worse than that, with only 14% of our employees engaged.
Add to this the challenges employees face at work. The acceptance we now live in a ‘VUCA’ world (characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) means work can turn into a place of stress and overwhelm. Levels of global trust also remain consistently low (according to the Edelman Trust Barometer), meaning trust can be hard to find even in relationships with clients and peers.
The end result is an environment that can combine disengagement with people ‘in a state of fight, flight or freeze’. Rather than employees relaxing into higher levels of creativity and productivity in a place of psychological safety, their environment is causing them to be dominated by more basic areas of the brain. They are often more focused on surviving the day with a job than achieving great work.
The antidote could be to ‘step into’ purpose in the workplace.
What does working with purpose actually mean?
Ian Lowe recommends two definitions of purpose from Aaron Hurst, the author of The Purpose Economy. The first is the short version: ‘Purpose is the reason we work beyond financial rewards and recognition’. Hurst also has a more comprehensive version. ‘Purpose is our core intrinsic motivation for work that is based on our values, capacity to contribute, view of the world and of our place in it. It defines who we seek to serve, how we seek to serve, and why we are motivated to serve.”
Another way to reveal the meaning of purpose is by asking why we work. Are we doing a ‘job’ (simply paying the bills, the mortgage, and putting the kids through school), pursuing a ‘career’ (with the connection to status and rewards that may entail) or following a ‘calling’ (where the work we do is purpose-driven and motivated by the impact we have in the world). While those who would profess to have a calling are far fewer in number, they are said to outperform others at almost every level.
Purpose can also be defined by what it isn’t. Lowe suggests we think about purpose as not being a ‘cause’ (something that can be gained by simply joining an organisation or a party, for example) a ‘revelation’ (something individual and sudden that comes by ‘meditating in a cave’ or being ‘struck by lighting’) or a ‘luxury’ (just for those who have the time and money to worry about things as impractical as living a purpose). Purpose has always been something for everybody.
How can workplaces cultivate a sense of purpose?
Lowe argues purpose-driven individuals and organisations derive it from three main areas.
Relationships: Purpose comes through interaction with others in the workplace and community - not just through self-exploration. Workplaces that are purpose-driven do their utmost to create situations where people are able to connect at a human level with each other. They aren’t just working on tasks; they are actually getting to know each other more deeply as human beings.
Impact: Seeing and being recognised for the outcomes of actions - even small ones - creates purpose for the individuals involved. Purpose-driven organisations make clear the lager impact of their work, but also value the small things - for example, doing things for other people that make a difference to their day, like showing appreciation for our colleagues and customers.
Growth: True purpose only comes when we voluntarily push the boundaries of our personal comfort zone. In purpose-driven organisations, individuals are encouraged to gradually work on increasing their sphere of comfort and to learn new things to achieve this personal growth.
What happens when we find a sense of purpose?
Data on purpose-driven organisations show they are able to achieve strong results compared with competitors. While numbers don’t justify purpose, they indicate how powerful a force it can be.
Individuals in purpose-driven organisations are:
- 64% more likely to be fulfilled at work
- 51% more likely to have strong relationships at work
- 54% more likely to have an impact at work
Teams in purpose-driven organisations are:
- Likely to experience a higher level of ‘psychological safety’
- Show greater dependability, stability, meaning, and impact
- Have been show to deliver a 37% increase in sales
Companies that are purpose-driven are:
- 68% more likely to experience revenue growth
- 36% higher Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- 600% higher performance over 10 years
What can your team do to increase their sense of purpose today?
JobReady has always been a purpose-driven company. Ever since our first software product was designed and launched over 20 years ago to assist employment services providers to get people into jobs and the dignity of work, we’ve always been clear that what we do every day matters.
As that mission has extended further into education and employment, the challenge is always keeping that purpose alive and visible within the workplace, and ensuring it is communicated in a way that connects with and motivates our employees to share it with us in their own work journey.
Ian Lowe says to start cultivating purpose today employees can ask three simple questions:
- How meaningful are your relationships with your colleagues and clients?
- What impact do you feel you are making at work and with your clients?
- How do you feel you are growing personally and professionally?
The follow-up to those questions is what to do about them now you know the answers.
- How are you going to invest in your relationships with your colleagues and clients?
- How are you going to maximise the impact you have with your colleagues and clients?
- How are you going to invest in your personal and professional growth going forward?