I spent a day with a journalist friend of mine, who’s side hustle is high-quality building and decorating. I gave him a hand installing a loft ladder

Having spent much of recent years working in office environments, this brief sojourn into manual labour was both eye-opening.

What first appeared a simple job of attaching a ladder became a day’s exercise in problem-solving and, apart from when the loft lid fell on my head, I was fully engrossed in and focussed on the work.

Q. What was I doing?
A. Installing a loft ladder.
Q. Why?
A. Because the client wanted to get up into their loft more easily.
Q. How was I doing this?
A. By putting the ladder together and attaching it to the loft floor, etc.

The simplicity and clarity of purpose and action were refreshing.

If you had asked me those three questions in a previous year when I was office based for some contract work, I would have struggled to give you such a clear set of answers.

Whilst I might have answered  –  “I am writing a report” – I might have struggled to express “Why” beyond, “I have a deadline to hit” or “my client needs the data for a meeting”.
And if you had asked how what I was doing benefitted the organisation, aligned to its values or strategic goals, I would have struggled.

And that didn’t make me happy.

This is not a problem unique to me. The Gallup Workforce Survey, 2013 suggests that only 8% of the UK workforce are motivated and engaged in their jobs.

So where does purpose fit into this?

I was facilitating a business planning day for a team tasked with raising money for a large cultural institution. I started the session by asking them to reflect on what gets them out of bed and come to work in the morning? What was their purpose?
“Knowing I am helping put on great events”, “working with a great set of colleagues”, “working for a great organisation” were some of the responses. Positive comments came from everyone, except for one person who was slightly apologetic in their honest answer that they didn’t know what motivated them.  A month later, I heard that the person had decided to move on.

I don’t know how much the realization that they lacked motivation or engagement contributed to their decision to leave, but it begs the question, how sustainable is your business if you or your colleagues are not purposefully engaged?

There is nothing wrong with working purely to earn money – we all have bills to pay, we have aspirations for the sort of life we want to live. Yet, wouldn’t work be even better if you enjoyed the act as well as the fruits of your labour?  And what if all your colleagues were happier at work? Higher retention, higher productivity, more discretionary work are all signs of a happy work culture. And, as many studies including a 2012 Gallup meta-analysis confirm, growth and profit follow happiness.

And, I suggest, it is far easier to affect change if you have a workforce that is happy, understands why they are doing what they do and feels that sense of connection to purpose and to each other.

As part of the communication strategy for any change initiative, ask these three questions

  1. What is the purpose of the change?
  2. How well does it align with my core purpose?
  3. How well does it align with my colleague’s purposes?

And if the answer to any of the questions is “not sure”, then you have a great opportunity to inquire deeper and find that alignment.  It will probably make all the difference.

Whilst the story of the janitor at NASA proudly stating he was “putting a man on the moon” is probably a myth, it illustrates how organisations that give their staff a clear sense of how they can contribute, make a huge difference to their staff’s motivation.  With my own recent experience of purposeful work, I will be searching for clear purpose in all my new contracts and will be advocating the same for my clients.