Last week my good friend Kris asked me to join her for breakfast to discuss some ideas she had about her business. I immediately accepted her offer (no, not in anticipation of the free meal) because Kris is one of those leaders who are never satisfied with the status quo. She runs a Bio Tech firm and always wants to push the envelope in terms of performance, employee engagement, and innovation. I was excited to find out what was brewing in her mind.
When we met, she began by telling me that she wanted to find a way to help her team understand their individual purposes as it relates to each other, to the company, and to their clients. She wasn’t talking about the core values or vision, which is already a solid part of their culture. She meant helping individuals understand how their roles and departments impact others—how their purpose isn’t just about doing their jobs, but thinking about how to proactively support those with whom they internally engage.
For example, is the IT department truly developing new ideas and processes to help the organization become more efficient? Is it proactively evaluating how to streamline processes in other departments through technology? Is HR looking at the culture and training just based on this year’s plan, or is it looking beyond that and bringing new ideas, innovation, etc. into the workplace?
As I listened to Kris explain her current journey of trying to figure out how to start having these conversations at a deeper level, it became clear to me that this quest wasn’t just about improving strategic thinking of her team, but truly about trying to get her team to connect what they do to a greater sense of purpose or drive. It was about creating a synergistic and holistic approach to what they do, whether they are in IT, HR, or accounting.
This got me thinking about purpose in the workplace. I’ve always believed that most people want to create something larger than themselves. They want to know that what they do every day at work has some meaning or purpose beyond their role—that it impacts the organization or others in a meaningful way. There are numerous examples of organizations that have created this belief of purpose within their ranks, such as Patagonia or Tom’s Shoes. And yet, Kris wanted to figure out how to individualize this concept so that each person sees their ultimate purpose in supporting and engaging other departments and their corporate office—basically an internal vs. external purpose.
It reminded me of early in my career in the storage industry (yes, the exciting and cutting edge storage industry). I worked for an amazing organization that allowed all of us to understand how we were creating something larger than ourselves, and how we impacted each department. Part of it was the strong vision our leaders had for our organization, part of it was the core values that we operated by, but an even bigger part was the open, innovative atmosphere.
The leaders wanted us to always see how we could not only improve our own area of responsibilities, but they recognized those who identified opportunities outside their own departments. They encouraged open communication. They believed we were creating something larger than ourselves and that we could not do that by operating as silos.
Having a strong vision and core values is just a piece of the puzzle of creating a purpose-driven workplace. Another piece is about opening the doors of communication and being willing to give beyond one’s self. It requires us to put our egos aside and realize that other people can help us achieve a greater good. We have to be open to different perspectives and communication.
As a side note, Kris and I did eventually come up with some strategies to begin engaging her management team in a purpose-driven conversation. They will soon explore this concept as an intrinsic part of their organizational culture.
This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at www.Collaboration-llc.com.
Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at www.Collaboration-llc.com.