Use this conversation

to help employees find their purpose

  • Inner purpose

Published on: September 2019

Written by: Jerry Connor

Purpose-led organizations are the wave of the future.

Forty-three percent of workers say that finding meaning in their work is very important to their job satisfaction, and nearly one-third of job seekers say they’d be willing to take pay cuts for jobs they were more passionate about. Purpose-oriented workers tend to be loyal high achievers, but it’s not enough to stencil your company’s mission statement on the break room wall. Employees need to be inspired to find their own purposes in life — and this inspiration can start with targeted coaching conversations.

It’s only recently that we’ve begun to view a personal vision as an asset rather than a threat. Throughout most of human history, cohesiveness has been crucial to our survival. Having an individualized vision was seen as competing for leadership, and competition usually led to dissent in the ranks. As a result, leaders sought buy-in for their visions rather than encouraging others to develop their own.

We’re moving away from a world with only a few clear leaders toward a society that is more accepting of the individual with personal motives and a unique point of view. While humans have evolved to be influenced by those around us rather than relying on our instincts, research shows that a herd mentality makes us less adaptable to change. In a world that’s changing so rapidly, organizations don’t need teams of yes-men. They need innovators, people who think differently. In other words, they need employees with clear personal visions.

How Purpose Can Help High Achievers Get Unstuck

Helping employees find their purpose starts with helping them discover who they are and the difference they want to make in the world. This can be challenging. Though most of us like to think we have clear visions, we are all conditioned to fulfill expectations laid out by others. It starts when we are children trying to get good grades in school and continues into adulthood as we strive to fulfill the expectations our employers, families, and social circles set for us.

Coaching conversations that inspire purpose can be particularly helpful in times of upheaval, change, or uncertainty. Signs that an employee might benefit from a conversation around purpose include:

  1. The employee lacks clear direction
  2. The employee needs to be more confident taking the initiative in times of uncertainty
  3. A high-performing employee suddenly seems unmotivated
  4. A high-performing employees suddenly seems overly concerned with meeting expectations or being all things to all people

If you sense an employee may be searching for direction, here’s how you can start a conversation to help them identify a purpose:

1. Get Clear on Personal Values

Consider cultural icons like Mother Teresa, Steve Jobs, or Abe Lincoln. Each of them have one or two core traits that define them. To identify purpose, employees first need to get clear on their own core values. It’s important to push past the most common values like honesty, loyalty, and respect. These are important, but they don’t reveal an employee’s unique qualities.

To help an employee get clear on their values, start by asking what sets them apart from others within the organization. What drives them? Another approach is to come at this from the opposite angle: What bothers the employee most? By understanding what leads to conflict, an employee can often uncover what their core values are. For example, if an employee is upset by selfishness and greed, they might hold generosity and helping others as core values.

Once employees can clearly define what is most important to them, you can help them apply those values to the challenges they’re currently facing. These values can serve as a compass pointing the employee toward their larger vision.

2. Help the Employee Visualize Change

If you’re cycling downhill and see a pothole, you might zero in on the pothole itself and worry about what will happen if you hit it. Paradoxically, homing in on the hazard won’t help you avoid it. You need to focus instead on steering around the pothole.

Similarly, you should encourage employees to focus on their visions for the future — the changes they want to see — rather than what’s not working in the present. During your conversation, ask the employee to get specific. For instance, what would it look like if their vision were to become real? How is this different from the current reality? The more detailed they can be, the clearer their visions will become — and the likelier they’ll be able to manifest their goals.

3. Encourage Small Experiments

To bring about major changes, you first have to try lots of new things. Some may not work out, which is why it can be helpful for an employee to think of these steps as experiments.

The final piece of the purpose conversation is to inspire the employee to conduct a few small experiments that have the potential to advance the larger vision. If an employee is passionate about a new product idea that would improve the lives of your customers, allow them to start with a small test. Not all experiments will pan out, but they will always help move an employee toward their vision for the company and their life as a whole. Developing a clear vision and purpose is one step along the journey, but that vision is unlikely to come to fruition without the employee taking concrete steps to fulfill their purpose.

Having these targeted coaching conversations to inspire purpose in employees won’t just help people feel happier at work. Your employees will take initiative, feel empowered, and take the lead in times of uncertainty. These positive traits are inherently contagious. Over time, they can create a new level of agility and responsiveness across the entire organization.