By: Joanne Heyman & Charlotte Lieberman
A recent survey by Towers Watson indicates that nearly two-thirds of U.S. employees feel disengaged from their work. Why? Many thinkers, ourselves included, have probed this question. In his Forbes article “(Almost) Everything We Think About Employee Engagement is Wrong,” Dov Seidman turns to a more expansive statistical analysis based on observations of more than two million workplaces. His conclusion: “The source of engagement has... everything to do with the extent to which trust, values and mission actually inspire and drive daily activities and interactions.”
Our conclusion: Own your purpose. To engage successfully in a single project or your role overall at an organization is to know your purpose, and to own it. Identifying and embodying your unique set of values is necessary for sustainable happiness and success — both on an individual and organizational level. Everyone — and every organization — must be driven by a sense of meaning: It can be to be the best partner, or to lead a multinational organization that treats its employees, suppliers, customers and shareholders as if they come first.
Knowing — and living by — your values is the best way to ensure that you are intimately linked to a core purpose. After identifying your values, you’ll find that patterns occur. They’ll likely cohere toward a more focused and unified sense of purpose. For example, as an institution, if you hold authenticity as a core value, the way you interact as staff with your clients ought to be aligned with how you communicate to fellow staff. Individuals who wish to position family centrally in their lives want to make sure that the work they do allows them not only the time to be with family, but also the space to express this value in how they engage professionally.
Owning a core purpose not only provides organizations at large with an underlying sense of community, but also makes it easier to get out of bed on those days when you have to face anticipated challenges. This is especially true for leaders, but also for all employees. Knowing why you do the work you do (be it for psychic benefit, a paycheck or both) is crucial to doing your work well, and feeling well while on the job.
In an organizational context, it is important for companies and non-profits alike to characterize themselves — and be characterized — with a purpose and mission. Answering simple questions such as “How is your organization unique?” and “What is your intended impact?” set the stage for better programs, services, communications and employee engagement. Having a strong sense of organizational purpose will also allow for increased flexibility. The most successful companies are able to keep their core purpose or brand-identity in tact while responding to changes in the marketplace - especially relevant in today’s ever-changing digital economy.
At Heyman Partners, our core values include connection, integrity, authenticity, design excellence and abundance. When serving clients, Heyman Partners is firmly committed to these values, grounding our work in honest communication, respect, confidence and generosity. While we recognize the importance of aligning mission, vision, talent and message, our final core value is simple and essential: fun. Fun is the core value that reminds us the importance of owning it. Taking oneself too seriously, as an individual and as an organization, brings with it a sense of rigidity and perhaps even self-absorption. By contrast, we place tremendous value on having fun, collaborating with our clients and finding great joy in our shared humanity.
Of course, the first step of identifying what your purpose is in the first place is easier said than done. As Viktor Frankl points out in his memoir Man’s Search for Meaning, “...success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” On an individual level, finding your purpose is not simply something you can plan to find — and then attain immediately. Individual purpose emerges by tuning into your needs, desires, skills, interests — and your worries and failures. As our client Vic Strecher asserts over the course of his graphic novel On Purpose, the idea of knowing yourself is not to be under-valued. Getting to know yourself inside and out - and owning whatever that means to you -is essential for cultivating a strong sense of self-direction. And with that, comes a sense of purpose.