There’s no escaping the truth: The future of work is here. To sustain a successful organization today, leaders must embrace the huge mindset shifts that resulted from the massive cultural shifts we’ve experienced over the past three years. (Quite frankly, these mindset shifts are ones that your employees have already made.) As reported by Gartner, these include:
- 65% of employees say the pandemic has made them rethink the place work should have in their lives
- 82% of employees agree it is important that their organization sees them as a person, not just an employee
- 52% of employees say the pandemic made them question the purpose of their day-to-day jobs
Caitlin Duffy, Research Director in Gartner’s HR practice, states, “The intent to leave or stay in a job is only one of the things that people are questioning as part of the larger human story we are living. You could call it the ‘Great Reflection.’…It’s critical to deliver value and purpose.”
A recent McKinsey survey found that 70% of US-based employees define their sense of life purpose by their job. The Academy to Innovate HR states that almost two-thirds of U.S. workers admit the pandemic has shifted their priorities, and 82% indicate that it is important for a company to have a purpose.
Purpose doesn’t just affect people. It also impacts profits. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytics Service Unit found that 58 percent of the companies surveyed had a clearly articulated and understood purpose and experienced growth of 10 percent or more over the past three years, compared with 42 percent of companies that did not have a developed purpose. Research from Deloitte shows that mission-driven companies have 30 percent higher levels of innovation and 40 percent higher levels of retention than companies who don’t.
Yet, while having a clear organizational purpose is necessary, it’s not sufficient. As McKinsey shares, “Be careful: purpose is not just ‘another corporate initiative.’ You can’t mandate this. And if you approach your people with inconsistency, hypocrisy, or arrogance, you will likely do the organization—and your reputation—more harm than good.”
To truly unlock the benefits that purpose can bring, there needs to be alignment of individual and organizational purpose. It isn’t enough that your employees know your company’s purpose. They need to uncover their own. It’s only when employees experience the synergy between their personal purpose and the organization’s purpose, that they become more satisfied, engaged, and productive.
So how do you go about helping employees uncover their own purpose? What’s a leader to do? You start with a story. Their story.
OWN YOUR STORY
Shannon Huffman Polson is remarkable person with a remarkable story. Born in Alaska, she grew up exposed to the awe-inspiring beauty and harshness of nature. At age nineteen, Polson became the youngest woman ever to climb Denali, the highest mountain in North America. After graduating from Duke University, she entered the military, and became one of the first women to fly the Apache attack helicopter in the U.S. Army. After a nearly decade-long career in the military, she went to work in management for a technology company.
Then, in 2005, tragedy struck. While celebrating their anniversary on a trip out in the Alaska backcountry, Polson’s father and stepmother were killed in a rare attack by a grizzly bear. Polson went back to Alaska and retraced their route, trying to make sense of this horrific experience. In her grief, Polson uncovered a purpose in writing, which connected to her purpose of being of service. Polson’s journal entries from that trip back to Alaska formed the basis of her 2013 memoir, “North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey”.
Polson has since gone on to write “The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience, and Leadership in the Most Male-Dominated Organization in the World”, and founded The Grit Institute, which seeks to build courageous compassionate and creative leaders with a focus on grit and resilience in times of change. One of the Grit Institute’s flagship programs is Paths2Purpose, which helps individuals and teams uncover their own purpose.
Story-crafting is central to the Paths2Purpose process. The process is designed using what Polson calls the Grit Triad:
The Grit Triad’s three elements are Commit, Learn and Launch. Commit means owning your past, Learn means engaging in the present, and Launch is looking to the future. The foundation (Commit) starts with crafting your story.
As Polson explained, “While Commit means connecting to our past, it goes beyond just remembering your past. There’s an extreme creative element to this. It’s owning your story and connecting it to your purpose. You don’t just find it. You have to do the work to create it. There’s a significant malleability with our own stories in how we understand them, and how we choose to interpret them and use them as the foundation to go forward. And while all three elements are important, if you don’t get the Commit phase right, you can’t do the rest of it.”
Polson continued, “Before we can adequately connect to the company’s purpose, each employee needs to be connected to their own story. And that important work is not something we typically give people an opportunity to do.”
Polson shared a powerful exercise that can help you connect to your own story.
Polson shared, “Sit down and draw your life line. The left side of the line is birth, the right side is the present. Next, write down the events that stand out in your mind. Some parts are positive. They go above the line. Other parts are negative, so they go below the line. Some things will fit in both categories. It can be anything. Be honest: No one else gets to see this, or judge how you think of something as positive or negative.”
Polson continued, “Once you’ve gone through and you’ve done that, then you go back through the life line a second time. As you go through the second time, assign each of the events a value. For example, my parents divorced when I was 12. The value I assign to that was family. It was a terrible thing to go through and was below the line, but the value that came from that experience was the importance of family.
As you go through your life experience, you might discover values like the outdoors, or intellectual stimulation, or literature, or perseverance, or love. You get to decide which values to choose.
Then, go through the line a third time, and look for what themes are emerging. What are you starting to see in terms of commonalities? What shows up multiple times? What did you learn in each of those places? You may be ashamed of something, or maybe failed at something. How do all of those things ultimately contribute to the story of your life?”
Owning your story via the life line exercise is the first step on the Path to Purpose. In her work, Polson teaches the other steps on the journey to uncovering purpose. A key ingredient of this work is activating and integrating the learning into your daily personal and professional life. The point of discovering your purpose isn’t for mere insight. It’s to give you a framework for making decisions that support and energize you every single day.
The jury has spoken: Purpose matters. Leaders that embrace purpose as part of their organizational operating system have a clear competitive advantage over those that don’t. Helping your employees uncover their own purpose is essential in this process. And the first step to doing that is to help them own and craft their own stories.
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