If you help an employee gain a greater sense of purpose, could they have an epiphany and leave? They might, however you should also weigh up the consequences of doing nothing. A line manager recently told me that he saw inaction as a greater risk, where people lack ‘zing’ and teams fall short of their potential.
I find that ‘purpose’ is a fuzzy concept – it may be used to describe anything from helping charities to personal missions, team focus or organisational direction. Decoding what it means is the first step in the process.
Giving people time and space for reflection may indeed set in motion a process that ends in resignation. Arguably, if they aren’t totally invested and inspired in their work then it could be the best outcome for all concerned. On the flipside, equipping them with the means for figuring it out improves the strength of the employer-employee relationship.
I come at this with some experience after a personal purpose-driven crisis that led to me blindsiding my boss with a resignation letter and, although I have no regrets, I know that a some guidance would have helped me make better informed decisions at the time.
Not everyone looks forward to honing their sense of purpose. In team sessions there will be some eye rolling and arm crossing; some people are thinking “I’ve got better things to do” or “that’s for others in the room – I don’t need it”, and that’s fine, but you’d also be surprised how quickly they buy-in once you get started.
I vividly recall an employee who seemed disengaged at first disclosing how aimless his life felt and how excited he was to have a method for improving things. Not only that, hearing colleagues’ perspectives and getting to know each other better is valuable too. It doesn’t require over-sharing – let people go as far as they want and don’t push them further.
Some companies, like Unilever, do ‘purpose’ really well and develop raving fans. Every job they advertise gets way oversubscribed and working there is viewed as a trophy for people’s CV. According to former CEO, Paul Polman, they register ‘pride in company scores’ of 90 percent compared to a global average of 15 percent and their attrition rate is half that of any peer in any market they operate in.
You can help your people gain a greater sense of purpose by helping them reflect on their key goals in life, how that marries up with the work they do and the organisation / industry they do it in.
Your task is to work out how best to support them in that process, and you may be pleasantly surprised how little it costs compared to dealing with the consequences of sudden resignations or performance management.
Phil Preston helps individuals, teams and organisations decode purpose to improve their performance and impact. You can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org
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