Consciously Creating Purpose And Meaning At WorkApril 12, 2016 . .
I’ve been reflecting upon my recent blogs on Laloux’s “Reinventing Organizations” and the idea of bringing our whole selves to work (emotionally, spiritually, and intuitively) and, my personal blog co-written with my twin sister about what keeps us from revealing our true selves. My query is about how we can encourage organizations to foster purpose and meaning while also being focused on their bottom line.
My consulting brings me into many workplace environments. I feel fortunate to observe each organization and its human dynamics as well as participate as a member of the organizational culture on longer term engagements.
When I lead programs that offer participants the opportunity to reveal more of their authentic selves, I delight in witnessing people transform into more energized, youthful, relaxed, happy, calm, hopeful, and engaged human beings. When this happens – when people connect more deeply to themselves and to those they are working with – it’s magic. There’s a spark of energy that allows for greater creativity and greater alignment to purpose (their own and the organization’s). The challenge, however, is that these participants return to what I call the ‘default organizational culture’, which is often characterized by disconnection from purpose and values, being overwhelmed, competing egos and priorities, and a task versus relationship focus.
Sustaining the Magic…
How can we sustain what participants have discovered and created in the offsite experience? How can we assist them in retaining this synergy and using the new practices they have learned in a repeatable way back on the job? The bigger the learning (or transformation), the more challenging it is to sustain it when going back into the old culture.
My inquiry grows out of the fact that – as we see time and again – connecting more deeply to personal and shared values creates positivity, energy, joy, and engagement. And the more engaged people are, the more productive they are. This is borne out by the research and I have observed this personally many times in small learning groups, team development projects, and large groups of 150+ people.
Patricia Aburdene’s book on Megatrends 2010: Seven New Trends that Will Transform How You Work, Live & Invest, describes how people’s expectations of work have shifted. Employees are seeking a greater sense of purpose, bordering on what she calls the “Power of Spirituality.” She sees this “quest for meaning” as a megatrend for our current era.
It may be difficult for some people to consider the concept of Spirituality at work, but there is no question that people are craving meaning and connection. According to Reverend Scotty McLennan, former Dean at Stanford University and teacher at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, “business people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, and many of them want to find it meaningful.”
As a leadership coach and consultant, I notice every day increasingly frenzied schedules and harassed states of mind that many of my clients are in. They are bound by their calendars, running from meeting to meeting and yet craving time to do quality work, to connect with their colleagues, and to feel excited about their work.
The Role of Leadership: Transforming the Workplace
Levels of employee engagement are incredibly low. Gallup’s 2013 study indicated that, of those who participated in their study, 70% of employees are disengaged at work. What worked before for employees clearly isn’t working anymore. Traditional management styles and a prevailing focus on profit over people no longer serves employees because employees want more from their workplace.
Leaders tend to be focused on ensuring the right structures, systems, and processes are in place often at the expense of the softer people-side of business. It’s evident by Gallup’s results on disengagement that people are not fulfilled or happy at work. As a leader, it’s important to recognize the role you can play in building a sense of connection and community amongst your employees and helping them feel valued for their contribution at work. People want to know that they are not simply cogs in the machine; that their company and direct manager care about their success… By leading in this way, you are proactively creating a positive organizational culture – one that contributes to higher engagement and bottom line. There is a plethora of statistics out there demonstrating a strong correlation between top cultures and high ROI.
Increasing Connection & Purpose at Work
As you consider your part in building connection and community and in helping your employees feel increased meaning and purpose at work, reflect upon the following questions. Keep these questions in mind when you think about what you can be doing for others and make sure you are clear about your own sense of meaning and purpose at work:
- What am I personally holding back that is getting in the way of my full self being revealed at work?
- What would make me feel more alignment when I’m at work?
- What can I be doing to build higher levels of connection amongst my peers? My staff?
- How can I support my team to be more enthused about their work and find more purpose and meaning in their work?
- What more can I do to be authentic and create trust amongst those I work with?
- What can I be doing to bring more consciousness to how I lead?
- How can I bring more compassion to my leadership?
- How can I contribute to those I work with (peers and reports) in a way that is real and offers them the opportunity to bring more of their full selves to work?
- What have I missed out in acknowledging and appreciating my individual team members?
- How can I show that I care about each person who works for me (in a sincere way)?
Employees spend close to 40% of their day in the workplace. Statistics for employee disengagement are startlingly high and, and it’s up to us, each leader and each employee, to consider what we can be doing to build a community that we want to be part of, that excites us, provides us a sense of purpose, and fosters alignment with our values. Employees truly are our most valuable asset and, if we want them to thrive and contribute fully to the organization and bottom line, we have to rethink our approach to the workplace in terms of structures, processes, and leadership. Collaboration, self-organization, flatter structures, open leadership, empowerment, genuine caring, and appreciation are the ingredients to increasing people’s sense of purpose and meaning in the workplace.
- Patricia Aburdene, Megatrends 2010: Seven New Trends that Will Transform How You Work, Live & Invest
- Dan Pontefract, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization, 2013
- Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness, 2014
- Mark C. Crowely, Lead from the Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century, 2011
- Gallup Research on Employee Engagement
- Stanford Business, How to bring your spiritual side to work every day
Labelled Tinkerbell and Mighty Mouse by colleagues and clients, Erica is a culture catalyst and leadership mentor. She engages teams, supports them through change and empowers them to be at their best. Connect with Erica on Twitter, the Incrementa website, or her personal site.
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