What does Ash Barty’s retirement have to do with purpose?

It’s hard to identify a public figure – sporting or otherwise – who Australian’s love more than Ash Barty. She role models hard work, honesty, humility, integrity, transparency and the list goes on.

Yes, she has many outstanding tournament titles to her name, but it’s more about the way she goes about it. Like any ‘brand’, it takes hard work and consistency to create such an image, exemplified in her media conference earlier today.

So what does her shock retirement at the ripe old age of 25(!) have to do with purpose? I don’t know her so I can’t say anything for sure, however her interviews and statements provide some clues.

Purpose is about aims and goals, and meaning is about the significance of those goals. Her Wimbledon victory felt like a major milestone and then the Australian Open was an opportunity to reward herself, her team and her fans. She’d lost the passion and drive to keep on achieving at the highest level, and that drove her decision to retire.

There are two key dimensions to purpose: intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Earning a living, attaining good health and wellbeing, finding the right job or being excited about jumping out of bed every day are examples of intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivators are more about giving, helping and supporting others. When we do it we get good vibes and feelings, however it stems from an intention and focus on others gaining rewards.

What I see in Ash is someone who is no longer thriving in tennis, and looking to thrive in other aspects of life. Spending more time with family and friends – not to mention a pending marriage – is a shift to a new type of intrinsic motivation for her.

We also see a shift toward extrinsic motivations, or ‘higher purpose’, with her stated desire to encourage Aboriginal and indigenous kids in sport, for example.

Purpose is never a fixed or static thing, it evolves with us and as the world changes around us.

I sense that we will hang on her sporting wins and successes in the short term, and over time we will come to realise there’s a lot more to the Ash Barty story, and that she has done what very few high achievers manage to do – to go out on their terms when they are on top.

What impact does Ash Barty have on you? Has it prompted you to reflect on your direction in life?

I invite you to add your thoughts.

Phil Preston is a purpose development expert who helps people and organisations maximise their impact. You can find out more on his speaker website, or visit the business purpose project.

You might like to follow him on LinkedInTwitter or make contact via hello@philpreston.com.au

What is Purpose and Do Your People Have Enough of It?

The global challenges we face are increasing people’s desire to make a difference and act with a greater sense of purpose, however for many it feels out of reach because they lead busy and complex lives. Furthermore, if they feel fatigued, burnt out or disengaged from their work they’ll be more prone to consider career and lifestyle alternatives, leading to the risk of abrupt resignation.

Helping employees gain a greater sense of meaning and purpose gives them incentive to stay – but how can employers provide that support in a way that’s sincere, effective and non-invasive? To answer this question, we need to understand purpose and the different forms it takes.

Take a moment to think about what purpose means for you in your life?

From my work, I’ve found that a group of 10 people will usually come up with 10 different answers, however their answers will fit into one of four categories that I’ll outline further on. These categories will help employers form responses that reduce disengagement and resignation risk.

Meaning & Purpose

Can you imagine a life of constant pleasure? A life without uncertainty, distress or pain? Intuitively, our achievements would count for less if they came all too easily. Psychologist, Paul Bloom, notes “the most satisfying lives are those which involve challenge, fear and struggle”, otherwise why would people choose to run marathons or spend weeks in miserable conditions climbing mountains? If the pursuit of a goal requires us, for example, to develop new skills, overcome setbacks and be persistent, then reaching for that goal will have far more significance and meaning.

Dr Lisa Williams of UNSW points to studies where people with higher levels of meaning in their lives have lower incidence of chronic disease, divorce and loneliness, and increased health, wellbeing and social connectivity. Global research by Aaker et al has found that meaning plays a bigger role in happiness for people on lower incomes, hypothesising it’s because the struggle to attain basic needs is greater.

Purpose is more about direction and focus. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines purpose as “the feeling of being determined to do or achieve something” or “the aim or goal of a person”, and goes on to define higher purpose as “a more meaningful reason to live, work etc.” 

Therefore, you can do something with purpose or be purposeful in the moment, and aim for a higher purpose in life, which is when we focus on helping others.

Auschwitz survivor, Dr Victor Frankl, noticed that those who survived had a purpose, a reason to live such as project, goal or relationship. And Greta Thunberg reports she generally sat alone at home with an eating disorder before finding meaning and purpose in her climate crusade.

For completeness, the term happiness is aligned with feelings of contentedness, satisfaction and fulfilment. It is actually your own assessment of your achievements in life. Dr Richard Morris from the University of Sydney points out that being happy in the moment is an emotion, and not the same as the concept of happiness which accrues over time.

In short, meaning is about the value, significance and importance of the things you do and purpose is about direction and goals. Pursuing a higher purpose is about helping others and less about self-reward, and happiness is your own view of how well you’ve done.

Four Types of Purposeful Activities

After analysing a range of works on this topic I still struggled to explain the relationship between people’s everyday actions and their sense of meaning and purpose. Furthermore, I felt it should be universally accessible and not just for a privileged few. It shouldn’t rely on an individual being wealthy, attaining a higher educational level or having the leeway to take a year off to meditate in a mountain cave.

With this in mind, I reviewed workshop attendee responses to arrive at the realisation that there are four types of purposeful activities:

  1. Living – Having a good quality-of-life with access to food, clothing, shelter, safety, employment, healthcare, education etc.
  2. Wellbeing – Life has good moments as you experience pleasure and joy, social connection, belonging and an absence of distress.
  3. Thriving – Being positive and excited about life, using your strengths to great effect, living your values and achieving goals.
  4. Giving – Contributing to something bigger than yourself by proactively helping others and making a difference.

Reflect again on the question posed earlier about what purpose means for you? Where does your answer fit in this framework? In the ideal world we’d have all four levels covered but the reality is that life often gets in the way!

One person in a workshop group saw their purpose as providing for their family, which correlates to the ‘living’ category. Another wanted to feel valued in their job (‘wellbeing’); another wanted to feel motivated to take on each day (‘thriving’) and another wanted to help the environment through their work (‘giving’). These categories are not sequential – meaning that you don’t need to tick the ‘living’ box in order to reach the other levels.

In listening to interviews with people who lived through the 1930s Great Depression in Australia, I was struck by the consistency of their stories. They said that, although basic living was hard, they were the best times of their lives! Why? Because they had to help each other and the connections, friendships and bonds they built became treasured. It’s proof that a higher sense of meaning and purpose can be achieved even when our basic quality of life is strained.

The Shift Employers Must Make

The good news is that there are measures employers can take to increase the ‘stickiness’ of their workers by helping them gain a greater sense of meaning and purpose – even if they lead busy and complex lives. It will require flexibility because some people see their job as a means to an end and focus on purposeful activities that are outside of work, whereas others may strongly align their work with purpose.

According to KPMG, 86 per cent of CEOs say that purpose is critical in forming a competitive employee value proposition, therefore it’s reasonable to assume that employers who can deliver what employees want will be well placed in the war for talent. Larry Culp, CEO of GE told Fortune Media:

“Increasingly, recruitment and retention is about more than the corporate whole. It’s about position and purpose…There was a point in time when people said, ‘I want to work for GE.’ Today, people are more focused on addressing climate, or being in health care, or in aviation.”

Employers should put more effort into finding out what purpose means for their people in order to devise effective ways of partnering with them. Otherwise, employees may see their firm as just another employer – a contractual relationship – rather than a valued partner, heightening the risk of voluntary turnover.

This happened to me 14 years ago. My job was interesting, challenging and well paid, but I’d been on that career path for a while and had a personal crisis when I realised I didn’t want to get stuck on those ‘train tracks’ forever. When I told my boss I was leaving there was no amount of money that would have convinced me to stay.

What I lacked back then was perspective and process, a way of framing my situation and seeing the full range of options available. I just panicked and left. In hindsight I now know that clarifying what purpose means for us at a given point in time and being supported in our pursuit of it is invaluable, and it’s a very cost effective way for employers to reduce disengagement and turnover risk.

If you’d like to collect your thoughts and contribute to a better overall understanding of meaning and purpose, I invite you to do this mini-assessment.

About the Author

Phil Preston is a purpose development expert who helps people and organisations maximise their impact. You can find out more on his speaker website, or visit the business purpose project.

You might like to follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter or make contact via hello@philpreston.com.au

Should Recruiters Be Worried if Their People Lack a Bigger Purpose?

Purpose has evolved beyond the forms of social good that we are familiar with such as giving, volunteering and responsible business practices, to something that is much more strategic and core to success. As Simon Mulcahy of Salesforce notes:

“Societal issues are becoming business issues”

This shift has huge implications for employees because younger generations seek a new type of purpose ‘experience’. It also gels with the evidence provided in Tribal Leadership that employees in high performing cultures feel bonded by collectively taking on a noble cause – something bigger than the company itself – which equates to having clarity of purpose.

Recruitment firms have a natural tailwind in this regard because employment is viewed as being good for society, however they will struggle if they fail to evolve and take the extra steps needed to clarify their purpose and make it real to their people’s everyday work.

With talk of ‘the great resignation’ due to greater flexibility and working professionals reviewing their priorities and purpose in life – a deeper dive into this issue could hardly come at a better time for recruiters from both a staffing and client perspective.

Recruitment industry authority, Ross Clennett, invited me to collaboratively review the sector’s approach to purpose and present the findings to recruitment business owners.


WHAT’S CHANGED?

Younger employees expect so much more from their employer than previous generations, with Gen Zs wanting purpose to be core to their work, and 61 per cent saying their biggest fear is being stuck in a job that isn’t fulfilling. 

This shift in employee needs can be characterised in three distinct ways:

  1. Work is more than a role or career pathway, young people want to work for an employer who is a partner in their life’s goals.
  2. Not only do they want to work in a dynamic team environment, their day to day work must be connected to a higher cause.
  3. Culture and leadership is important, and they want to be inspired by the overall purpose of their organisation.

 

 

HOW HARD IS IT?

A recent executive survey by Brandpie found that 60 per cent of CEOs who have or want a company purpose admit they are uncertain about how to enact it – research that is consistent with Porter Novelli’s findings that 87 per cent say they need help navigating purpose and the societal issues of the day.

On the flip side, leading companies are already realising the benefits of purpose. Food and beverage company, Lion Co, has a purpose of “bringing people together to be sociable and live well” which may help explain why it took on the full strength beer market with a mid-strength beer and won. They also screen job candidates for their purpose ‘mindset’ in the recruitment process. Why? Because this is a non-negotiable feature for their company culture.

 

RECRUITMENT INSIGHTS

We covered a lot of ground in our sessions, so I’ll summarise three of our key insights:

1. PURPOSE QUALITY VARIES

In analysing the purpose statements of seven large recruitment companies, their quality was variable. The main reason being that some statements spoke more to their financial or market differentiation ambitions than to the benefit to society their business aims to create.

 

2. COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

We looked at five examples of using a purpose lens to create financial or market advantage, including a major recruitment firm that supports youths who struggle to gain access to regular employment opportunities.

Not only is their program highly engaging for staff, they benefit commercially from the closer relationships they build with their own customers (large corporations), connecting them with a new market segment and convenient solution to some of their corporate social responsibility obligations.  

3. VALUES ≄ PURPOSE

We looked at best practice in how companies structure their ‘purpose’ and why values are not the same as purpose. Values are the highly prized features of your culture and organisational DNA that you see as being essential to your future success, which is quite different to the ‘social objective’ conveyed by your business purpose.

One of our session attendees mentioned they were in the process of articulating their purpose and there was confusion with values, so in the discussion we were able to work through this together.


START WITH GENUINE INTENT

If there’s one important lesson that comes from companies that have successfully articulated and implemented their purpose, it is that you have to be genuine and prepared to just get started!

Delivering purpose profitably – as distinct from making a profit and giving some back – requires greater proficiency in social, economic and environmental outcomes. It may require working with new partners in new ways and you’ll have some reality checks along the way.

Ross pointed to the leadership of Talent International’s Richard Earl, who talks with humility about creating their foundation arm, Talent RISE, saying that it took a few goes to get their initiatives working in the way they’d intended.


HOW DO YOU RATE?

A purpose statement is essential, however it counts for little if your people don’t understand what it means, believe in it or know how it could or should impact their every day work. You can ask your people the following questions to gauge how well you are doing:

  • Is our business purpose well articulated?
  • Do we understand why it is what it is?
  • Does everyone take it seriously?
  • Do we ferociously protect it?
  • Do we embrace our team’s contribution to it?
  • Do we understand how it drives business performance?
  • Do we use it to guide the decisions we make?
  • Are we encouraged to call out instances where our actions compromise our purpose?
  • Is there congruence between what we say and what we actually do?
  • Are we attracting and retaining the best talent in the market through our purpose?
  • Is everyone inspired by our purpose?

Purpose requires patience and persistence, however it will pay off because it is the ‘ticket to play’ for every business in the ‘purpose economy’ that we suddenly find ourselves in. 

Recruitment firms are no different, hence their owners and leaders would do well to connect their people to a purpose bigger than simply filling their clients’ jobs with the best candidates.

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Phil Preston is a purpose speaker, strategist and founder of The Business Purpose Project. He is the author of Connecting Profit with Purpose and co-host of Corporate Conversations on Purpose. You can contact him via phil@businesspurposeproject.com