A deeply felt sense of purpose in life leads to excellence. Human beings want to belong to something of significance and meaning. They want to know they are making a difference, contributing to an important endeavor. The best workplaces give their employees a sense of purpose, help them feel they belong, and enable them to make a difference.
A clear understanding of how one's particular job contributes to the company's "reason for being" can be a powerful form of emotional compensation and is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization. Our objective was to identify the consistent dimensions of workplaces with high levels of four critical outcomes: employee retention, customer metrics, productivity, and profitability. The research identified 12 dimensions that consistently correlate with these four outcomes -- dimensions Gallup now uses to measure the health of a workplace. An associated research effort, in which Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers, focused on discovering what great managers do to create quality workplaces.
Employees at every level and in every function like to feel that they belong. Individual achievement is important, of course, but when employees of an organization feel they are an integral part of a larger whole, they are more likely to stay committed to that organization. All of us like to feel our companies stand for us, represent us, share our values, and have the same kinds of goals. It is more exciting to share a mission than to simply complete a task.
Every individual has a unique sense of purpose, and individuals find different meanings in similar situations. Thus, the proverbial mission statement does not necessarily help employees find a sense of purpose in their work. There is nothing wrong with mission statements, but they are often too vague and too broad to allow every employee to connect with them. Think about it. All employees, either consciously or unconsciously, ask themselves, "What is this company's purpose? Does this company look at the world in the same way I do?" Employees all want to know whether their purpose meshes with the company's mission. Because each employee looks at the world in a slightly different way, each comes up with a different answer.
Great managers continually strive to help employees understand how the company's mission or purpose directly relates to individual duties. This relationship helps employees find a connection between the company's values and their own. Every employee has different values. Some value competition, others value service, others value technical competence. Great managers translate the company's purpose into language that each employee can understand.
Outstanding workplaces never confuse strategy with purpose. Purpose is constant. It is the heartbeat of the company, and provides the company with power and guidance. Strategy answers the question, "How will we get to where we are going?" Strategies do change. In fact, companies constantly devise new strategies to find the most efficient path toward their business goals. The frequent evolution of strategies does not necessarily indicate a lack of purpose. Great organizations emphasize how new strategies support the broader organizational purpose. Great managers always help to keep the distinction clear for each employee.
In next week's column, we explore Item 9 of 12: "My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work."