Bringing a Sense of Purpose to Unsexy Roles

How and why to connect your candidates (and your employees) to something bigger.

Here’s the dictionary definition of purpose:

The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

Cool. Excuse me while I help this burrito find its purpose in my stomach.

Here’s the Mark Zuckerberg definition of purpose:

“Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.”

Hold please while I put my burrito down. Mark, you have my attention.

A couple months ago, as commencement speeches commenced, there were a lot of inspiring speeches (and tweets) about purpose. But Zuckerberg didn’t give the standard advice to simply find your purpose:

“We’re millennials. We’ll try to do that instinctively. Instead, I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”

He then explained that A.I. and technology will replace so many jobs that this generation will need to create big meaningful projects that build a shared sense of purpose; for example, solving climate change, finding cures for all diseases, and modernizing democracy.

This wasn’t just an inspiring speech for Harvard’s graduating class. You should read it too. Why? Because “creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose” is solid strategic advice for anyone who’s hiring.

I get that your mission may not be one of these aforementioned big, meaningful projects, but you can still reframe your opportunities in a way that helps the current and incoming workforce connect through a shared sense of purpose.

Here are two doable suggestions for creating a shared sense of purpose that you can easily implement right now (plus a third suggestion to aim for):

Suggestion 1: Reimagine the role of your roles.

We’re all hiring in the era of purposeful entrepreneurship.

  • 60 percent of Millennials consider themselves entrepreneurs,
  • 90 percent recognize entrepreneurship as a mentality,

… and the vast majority want to find meaning in their work.

According to Mathew Paisner, CEO of AltruHelp, a website that connects aspiring social entrepreneurs with local opportunities, 75 percent of his applicants were willing to decline Fortune 500 opportunities to instead join his venture. Apparently, punching the time clock for the man is getting less attractive by the minute.

So, what’s doable right now?

Don’t be ‘the man’ — be the path towards something better.

I’m gonna be that honest friend right now and just be honest … a lot of your jobs are not sexy.

And that’s okay.

The reality for many millennials in the workforce is that while thinking like an entrepreneur comes easy, paying off student loan debt is hard. Most of the graduating class of 2017 that you want to recruit will still need to get a real job while they work on their ideas and plan those big meaningful projects. In fact, some of the best ideas will come from — gasp — seeing what’s wrong while they’re working for you (👋 oh hey — it’s me, that honest friend again).

So reimagine your roles by connecting them to a larger purpose; aka, rewrite job descriptions that can attract the right set of passions and values:

  • Is your organization a bank?

Cha-ching! How does this role help other people find the financial freedom to move forward?

  • Is your organization an insurance company?

Seems actuary boring. But, I bet this role helps people manage risk while they pursue their dreams, or stay afloat when circumstances take a turn for the worse.

  • Is your organization a hospital?

You don’t need me on this one — you got this. 👍

Suggestion 2: Spend more time on the big picture

People are more likely to share a sense of purpose when they are working towards a mutually understood mission/vision or goal. But how often does leadership have crystal vision on the future, while their worker bees can’t see through the fires they’re putting out this week?

Sharing the big picture with an annual state of the state speech is cool, but the inspirational half life on that is about 36 hours max. No, really — ever hear of the forgetting curve? It’s a thing: we forget 70% of what we learn in 24 hours… soooo, time to put that big picture on loop.

I’m starting to forget your point. So, what’s doable?

Don’t assume that onboarding and annual meetings present enough time for employees to hear about the mission, the vision or the goal. Remind them of it constantly. Add that message into all of your communications.

  • Have email footers?

Add your mission statement, or, better yet, encourage employees to design one that specifically explains how they are contributing toward the mission.

  • Have customer case studies or consumer reviews?

Commit to sharing those on the career portal, weekly newsletter, intranet, or Slack channels — whatever your employees are looking at.

  • Have volunteer programs that align with your mission?

Some people don’t participate because they don’t think they can afford to; help them out by encouraging and rewarding participation with paid volunteer time. 💰

Suggestion 3: Connect organizational purpose and progress back to the individual effort.

People feel a sense of purpose when they understand what impact they can make, and they stay excited about it when they feel like they are making progress.

The problem here is that organizational missions can be evergreen, and some goals are so lofty they take multiple teams to execute and years to achieve. Over time, it can get harder and harder to see where any individual contribution has made a difference.

Making that connection between individual effort and organizational goals is different for every organization.

Tying progress back to employee output could be as simple as making sure managers mention it during weekly check-ins — or it could be as complex as tying compensation back to organizational results. Wherever this falls on your complexity spectrum, one thing is consistent: Connecting the individual to the larger purpose requires actively acknowledging the effort, and communicating that acknowledgement with your candidates when applicable.

While Mark Zuckerberg lays down the gauntlet for his fellow millennials:

“… to keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge — to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose.”

I’ll lay it down for you, my fellow hiring professional: How will you create a renewed sense of purpose in your organization?

At Breezy, we make effortless recruiting software that helps you attract and hire better employees, faster — whatever your purpose in the world. Learn more and start your free trial at Breezy HR.

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