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Our Summer Survey revealed a potential problem that employees have in finding a sense of purpose in their work. This was spurred by the finding that while leadership feels the work provides opportunities to matter, employees don’t seem to find it.

Our previous post suggested that organizations could take some responsibility to be clearer about how they pursue economic success, including the forgoing of maximized returns in order to pursue something non-economic that matters. As an example of this latter point, consider Unilever CEO Paul Polman’s decision to forgo quarterly reporting claiming it distracted from long-term sustainable business activities. He explains his rationale here.

From an investor perspective, this money-where-your-mouth-is approach appears to be working: after a sudden dip 4 years ago right after the change, the stock price is back to pre-crash levels. So would an organization like this, with this kind of CEO, continue to thrive by attracting and retaining the right employees? The right customers? Time always tells, but right now, no one knows for sure. Perhaps, this consistency and clarity makes it easier for both employees and customers to know what to expect. The onus will be on all other actions and policies to align as much as possible with this obvious focus on sustainability. Maybe compensation incentives will tie to long-term results. In Seymour Schulich’s book Get Smarter, he counsels any organization to pay out bonuses 12 months hence. The message is we want you to stick around.

Simply because we see an organization as a collection of human beings, we will suggest that a good chunk of the “purpose” equation sits with the individual employee. What do you want out of this job? Your life? These are big questions and answers may take a lifetime of thought and reflection. When Simon Sinek roles out the golden circle and says, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” a reasonable response could be, “I am still figuring that out, but in the mean time, my situation is working just fine.”

We invite you to a dialogue on this journey of “figuring it out.”

Here is a recent anecdote to share:

“Since our last conversation, I had been thinking about where things fit in. As I was mulling it over, I had the opportunity to shadow one of the front-line workers in my organization. The organization is government funded and coordinates in-home health care services. The interaction that my colleague led was a wonderfully compassionate negotiation. A health-care professional guided a convalescing woman to determine the care that she needed, while being conscious that too much care was detrimental to recovery and any waste would impact resources available to another client/patient in this or a different community. All of a sudden, it lined up. It made me look and my job and ask, ‘How am I helping this to happen?’ I think that would be a good point of view for everyone in our organization to take.”

Please get in touch through e-mail or through our website with anecdotes that you can share.

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