Putting Purpose into Perspective
My first introduction to the power of having purpose was when I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. Frankl was a psychologist and concentration camp survivor who spent considerable time contemplating why some prisoners survived and others didn’t. He saw that survivors were people who found meaning in life and a sense of purpose in their future. Frankl suggested it’s not pleasure or happiness that is the point of life, but in finding a meaning that transcends ourselves.
More recently, I watched a video of Simon Sinek talking about who makes it through Seals training. Since my husband, David, survived the infamous Seals BUD/S “hell week” twice (only to be injured too badly to continue training), I asked him who makes it through training. He confirmed the truth of Sinek’s video - the people who make it through Seals training are not the ones that are the strongest, fastest, or most athletic. Those who make it through find the energy to help a team mate even when they themselves are exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s a trait of Dave’s that continually inspires me. He, like the Seals, finds meaning outside of himself.
A Harvard Business review article from 2018 says that 9 out of 10 people are willing to make less money to do more meaningful work, and a report from Gartner suggests that the pandemic only strengthened these convictions in people. Awareness of the value of aligning work with a greater purpose has been growing steadily for decades, yet many businesses still haven’t connected their work to a greater meaning. Why is this?
When I talk with leaders about defining a greater purpose for their work, they often express that the nature of their work isn’t connected to a greater purpose. “We just fix pipes,” or “We only lay cable.” Yet many organizations with otherwise mundane products or services have defined a greater purpose. Steve Jobs could have said, “We only make computers,” but instead he said, “We give individuals power.” Kellogg could say, “We only make food,” but instead they say, “We nourish families so they can flourish and thrive.” Every business can serve a higher purpose.
To find your business's purpose, ask yourself these questions:
What makes me a “good guy” instead of the evil, greedy businessperson so often portrayed in the media?
What meaningful problems does my business solve?
What emotion do I want people to associate with my business (joy, relief, trust, comfort)?
What would the world be like if our product or service didn’t exist?
At Journey Consulting, we could have said, “We help business owners plan their exits,” but our founder, Jayne McQuillan, felt there was more to it than that. What would the world be like without exit planning? She looked at reports showing 80% of businesses that go to market don’t sell. Without proper exit planning, companies go out of business, employees lose jobs, and owners are forced to delay retirement or make significant lifestyle changes. That’s why our purpose is not just to plan exits, but to “Change lives by transforming business,” and that mission inspires us every day.
Business owners increasingly feel overwhelmed by the tight labor market and challenging supply chain. Many are putting off conversations about purpose, but now is the time to talk about what gives your work meaning. It will give you and your employees the fuel you need to power through the challenges you’re facing. As Frankl said, “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life.” Help your employees find that meaning and they will stay with you. Help yourself find that meaning and you will persevere through any challenge. So, talk to your employees about what value they see the company is bringing to the world. Ask front-line employees what moments make them the proudest. Answer the questions listed above with your team and define your purpose together. Then let that purpose become your north star.
I’ll leave you with a final quote from Victor Frankl:
“Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself…”
Written by Michelle Duncan, SSBB, CSM