As we enter the season of reflection, new year resolutions and occasionally some strategic thinking and planning, I wanted to share an insight I received from working with a charity a couple of years ago. An insight into the importance of both Purpose, and of Meaning, in any organisation.
- Almost every organisation is encouraged to have a purpose. The purpose expresses why you exist and what seek to achieve.
- Notice that any mission or purpose statement, is aspirational. We are doing this to achieve this. What you want to happen. In the case of a client I worked with, a Christian Children’s’ charity, it was to help and protect children at risk and in poverty.
- Of course many people will join an organisation because of that purpose. They want to make a difference. They aspire to make change.
- Purpose and vision and future orientated. It is long term. It is future orientated. I may join an organisation because I believe it fulfils and important role and purpose, and I want to contribute to that.
- Meaning is something different. Meaningful work is making a difference, now, TODAY.
- So in the charity example, many staff who ran the children’s day centres were transferred in under contracts. Many of these people, not have been aware of the organisation’s wider purpose, nor shared it Christian values. What they really cared about was each child they saw that day. They wanted to go home each day, feeling they made a difference to that child’s life.
- That was what mattered to them. That gave their job meaning They wanted to feel their work was meaningful (full of meaning)… today.
There is a simple, but important, distinction here: Purpose is future tense; while Meaning is present tense.
On recruitment and retention
So people often join an organisation for purpose. It matches their ambitions and aspirations and perhaps values. However, if they feel they are no longer making a difference, in the way they define it, then work will lack meaning for them. This is irrespective of how important the purpose and aspiration of the organisation might be.
When work becomes persistently meaningless, it can also become full of stress (stressful). Ultimately, if they have a choice, people will go elsewhere. I suspect, (from personal experience), that the only thing that might be keeping them where they are, is the time it takes to find a place that will have more meaning and a suitable purpose. They seek more meaningful employment (or less hassle and day to day ****).
The common belief is that the millennial generation are more inclined to seek work that is both purposeful and meaningful. (Though finding such a job can be hard). Therefore, we should adapt our organisations to ensured we present this and deliver this. I suggest that this is not a new phenomenon. It is a persistent need and occurrence across the generations. Aspirational purpose is not enough. No matter which generation they might be in, we need to ensure our work is meaningful for people.
It is the cumulative (day after day after day) and aggregate (across all the people) individual days of meaningful work, that works toward purpose and vision.
I know you are ahead of me on this. Here goes anyway….
- Of course, this is about how we choose to manage our organisation. Do our ways of thinking about people, our systems and processes and how we manage contribute to meaningful work, each day? Or do they get in the way?
- How we help people make a difference, and see they are making a difference.
- How we help them learn and develop, individually and organisationally, is all about meaning.
I am sure you have already started thinking about how will you build more meaning into the way you manage your strategy, people and organisation in 2019, haven’t you….
Have a relaxing and fruitful break…
A few links to my blog articles that might prompt some more thoughts…
- A longer version of this article on my website https://www.excitant.co.uk/purpose-and-meaning-at-work-in-business-and-in-organisatons/
- Do you have employees in your organisation, or people in your business? https://www.excitant.co.uk/do-you-have-employees-or-people-in-your-business/
- Being clear of the difference between purpose, mission and vision https://www.excitant.co.uk/difference-between-mission-vision-purpose/
- Human capital: The disenfranchisement of employees https://www.excitant.co.uk/human_capital_disenfranchises_employees/
- Our organisations are social systems https://www.excitant.co.uk/organisations-do-not-exist/
- Our strategy should explicitly include consideration and choices about how we lead and manage https://www.excitant.co.uk/something-missing-from-strategic-thinking-how-we-lead-and-manage/