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Working with Purpose (at multiple levels)

According to a 2018 Harvard Business Review study, nine out of 10 workers say they would take a pay cut to do more meaningful work.

Think about this. Especially in light of very recent statistics showing about the upcoming “Great Resignation” – up to 55% of American workers anticipate looking for a new job in the next 12 months.

Gulp. We have a huge retention challenge facing us, and one major factor involved is a sense of purpose. People want their jobs to be infused with meaning.

In a recent post about hiring/quitting/retention challenges on Mark Schaefer’s {grow} blog, Keith Reynold Jennings noted that 88% of executives are seeing higher than normal turnover. Keith also writes: the science community generally defines “meaningful work” as work that is “important, worthwhile, and valuable.”

It’s not just getting a paycheck. So, how do we, as leaders, provide work that has purpose?

Here’s my suggestion: create purpose statements at multiple levels.

Most companies have very high-sounding (and often generic) Mission and Vision statements that are supposed to represent the top-level purpose of the company. The organization’s reason for being, its value, its direction.

The problem is, many such statements are not specific and actionable enough to motivate employees. They sound good, but they’re not tangible or focused. I’ve seen a million of these, and most employees can’t even quote them.

But if you create purpose statements at the department/team level, and then down to the role/individual level, now you have a chance to spell out relevant purpose for everyone in the organization.

One of the most powerful things I do is help individuals in career transition craft their purpose and value and direction statements. It’s enormously meaningful and motivating. But I’ve also seen how this works on individuals within a company, and specifically when they also have a chance to buy into a simple, clear, focused purpose for their department.

A Global Omnichannel Marketing group in a company has a unique purpose, goal, vision, and value compared to, say, the U.S. Commercial Training Group, or the Medical Affairs team (I’m using examples from pharmaceutical companies, where I do the majority of my clarity consulting/workshops – but the principle holds for every type of organization, of any size).

When I do clarity statements with companies or teams, one of the immediate epiphanies in the first hour is that it’s actually quite challenging to put into succinct, compelling words exactly what the mission/purpose/value of the group is. That’s one reason why so many purpose statements end up as powerless jumbles of business jargon, like “we exist to enable all our stakeholders to obtain favorable outcomes by leveraging world-class innovation and collaboration.”

Blech. Not meaningful. That’s one reason why it’s easy to resign from a “purpose” like that.

If you’re concerned about pro-actively tackling the upcoming (or maybe ongoing) Great Resignation, one of the most high-impact things you can do immediately is start creating clear, simple, motivating purpose statements. At every level.

If you need help getting clarity on this, give me a shout.

“I’ve relied on Steve for years to bring clarity at a departmental level as we branded our group and communicated its value in the organization. The results were outstanding, shaping our culture, our identity, and our internal messaging.” – Jason Zeman, Senior Director, Leadership and Organizational Development, Bausch Health

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