Time to dive into the “purpose” conversation. That’s the idea that we, as leaders, have an obligation, a responsibility, to help our employees find the purpose behind their jobs — the “why” behind their work.

It wasn’t all that long ago when most of us would’ve said: “Your purpose? How about doing your job. How about showing up on time, doing what we tell you, and … not rocking the boat. How’s that for a purpose?”

That doesn’t fly anymore, for … well, how many reasons do you need?

Here’s one: Best-selling author Dan Pink has poured over tons of research and found just three things all employees want — from their jobs, from their employers, from life at work. Here they are:

  1. Autonomy. Self-direction. That feeling that they know how to do their job better than anyone, so get out of their way and let them do it.
  2. Mastery. The feeling that you’re not only doing your job, but you’re learning, growing as well. Learning and mastering new skills that will help you grow over the long term.
  3. Purpose. The feeling that my work has a larger, lasting meaning, outside of just making money for my employer. It’s that Simon Sinek notion: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Here’s the thing: Your employees no longer feel the need to stick around if they don’t get these things. The Great Resignation is real. Your employees are more empowered than ever. They’re demanding these things from their work, and they don’t get them from you, they’ll get them from someone else.

McKinsey published an article recently titled “Help Your Employees Find Purpose — Or Watch Them Leave.” Here’s what the authors say:

“If the tumult of recent years has prompted your organization or leadership team to reconsider people priorities such as employee well-being, resilience, or purpose, then you’re in good company.

“Your employees are reconsidering you, too.

“Nearly two-thirds of U.S.-based employees we surveyed said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic. Millennials were three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work.

“Such findings have implications for your company’s talent-management strategy and its bottom line. People who live their purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. They are also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay at the company. Moreover, when employees feel that their purpose is aligned with the organization’s purpose, the benefits expand to include stronger employee engagement, heightened loyalty, and a greater willingness to recommend the company to others.”

The authors go on to offer some suggestions for how employers can help their people find that purpose, and it all starts with your organization’s purpose. Here’s what McKinsey says:

“It may seem counterintuitive to look first to the organization’s purpose in hopes of supporting the life purpose of your employees, but remember: this part you control. Does your company meaningfully consider its role in society? Do senior executives use the company’s purpose as a North Star to make difficult decisions and trade-offs? If your company’s purpose is just a poster on the wall, you’re wasting everyone’s time. If you talk about purpose but don’t follow through, the results can be devastatingly bad.”

It’s a people-first world — more than ever before, thanks in large part to the pandemic and all of the havoc it’s brought to our lives. It’s an era of what Tom Peters calls “Extreme Humanism.” In fact, his latest book, which is called Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism, includes what he calls “The Leadership 7” for a COVID-19 world. Seven things that all leaders are, Peters would say, morally responsible for doing. Here they are:

  • Be kind.
  • Be caring.
  • Be patient.
  • Be forgiving.
  • Be present
  • Be positive.
  • Walk in the other person’s shoes.

In short, says Peters, “this is an unparalleled opportunity to enact positive change and plant the seeds for a better world. To react with less than full-scale engagement and commitment is, to me, unconscionable.”

So there’s never been a better time to have conversations like the this. My guest on the podcast this week is Dr. Alan Patterson. He’s a Business Learning Institute thought leader who has guided hundreds of clients in professional and leadership development, including the Broad Institute, Federal Reserve Bank, Hewlett Packard, Johnson and Johnson, Kite Pharma, Major League Baseball, and the United States Navy. He is a frequent conference and workshop presenter and a best-selling author whose most recent book is out now. It’s called Burn Ladders, Build Bridges: Pursuing Work With Meaning And Purpose. We sat down recently and talked about how we can go about surrounding ourselves with people who will help us do work with meaning and purpose — and just as important, how we can become those types of people for others.

Listen to our conversation here:

Resources:

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