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Aligning Your Job and Your Life: Mission and Purpose at Work

Aligning Your Job and Your Life: Mission and Purpose at Work

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 6, Episode 37
  • Find out why helping employees see their importance to your organization is such a fundamental workplace need in this Q12 for Coaches podcast on item Q08.

On this special edition of Called to Coach, we will spend time investigating the experiential, emotional and empirical aspects of each element of Gallup's Q12 engagement instrument and learning how it increases the power of our coaching as a primary driver of success. This series will be hosted by Dr. Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup, who started at Gallup in 1990 as a manager/team leader and has had a variety of roles but has always led a team. One of his primary concerns for managers is one that he's experienced himself: How many well-intentioned team leaders are there who are working really hard but don't have any coaching or context about engagement and how do they lead to engagement through their strengths?

In this session, Mike talks about Q08 -- "The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important." Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.

Host Jim Collison: Mike McDonald is our host today. He works as a Senior Workplace Consultant here on the Riverfront. Mike, welcome back to another Called to Coach.

Guest host Mike McDonald: We're ready to go, Jim. We're starting to get into the rarified air of the higher order of engagement. I think this is going to stretch all of us.

JC: I agree with you. This is one of the first ones where it's not necessarily the manager or even the person. It really transcends the idea of even team. Talk about the question and the resources available.

MM: Today we're talking about Q08 of our 12. It's "The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important." It's interesting to think about the mission (or purpose) of my company -- one segment -- and then makes me feel my job is important. How do we drill down and make this statement come alive on a daily basis that will drive engagement?

JC: Mike, I'm going to mention First, Break All the Rules. It's a resource with hidden gems. What are our resources?

MM: The first one is, as you mentioned, First, Break All the Rules -- the latest version, which is a huge bestseller. It has a CliftonStrengths code and a Q12 code for teams of up to 10 people.

The other book is 12: The Elements of Great Managing -- which brings each of the workplace items to life. And then there is our own Gallup research and reporting, available to you for free on

We like to combine the empirical (data), the emotional (the stories) and the experiential (where we stand on a Q12 item and how that affected our own performance).

JC: We've got a section in the Coaches Blog -- our resources tab --, and I recently updated the link to all of the reports. So the Reports section will take you to every report we've done. That's a one-stop shop for reports. Once you find that site, bookmark it.

So Mike, as we dig into Mission and Purpose, what are we talking about?

MM: The core psychological need or request in this item is "Help me see my importance." When we think about the hierarchy of engagement, the first two items (Q01, Q02) involve "What do I get?" The next four items (Q03-Q06) address "What do I give?" But now we're operating in this third tier of the hierarchy (Q07-Q10) -- "Do I belong?"

For "What do I give?" you might miss me if I'm not at work because there's more work for you to do. But for "Do I belong?" you're bummed out if I'm not at work because we hang out at lunch and banter back and forth. So you really miss the relationship. It's a very deep emotional item.

JC: We have some numbers about this item. Can you talk about them?

MM: Actually, this item does pretty well in the U.S. About four in 10 strongly agree with this item. When we can strongly agree, it has strong implications (high-performing teams vs. low-performing teams on this item) for profit. So there's a value proposition to how unified we are around that central guiding philosophy (mission/purpose) that releases the best of our performance. Safety is a little more aligned with what we would expect -- there is a relational/social component in this item that causes us to be more watchful for each other, in terms of errors or physical danger.

And then the third piece is turnover. We want to stay at places where we are captivated along with others by that mission and purpose. And that causes us to continue to want to show up.

JC: In some organizations, mission is easier to find than in others. But every company is in business for some kind of purpose. How do businesses need to approach this, especially from an executive level?

MM: We are seeing a shift in terms of purpose overriding the paycheck, and a shift from doing something because it's part of your job to doing something because it aligns with your life. The workplace is becoming more transparent so that now alignment with life has to matter. We can do that when we work through engagement.

Don Clifton said, "There are no pass-through roles on the way to excellence." This captures the shift in how we view our roles. In some roles like healthcare, government entities, education, we see strong connections to this item. But it's still not a slam-dunk. For example, one-third of hospital workers still give a low score to this element.

Conversely, we see 25% of the workplace in retail, finance, chemical manufacturing who strongly agree. So there's no role that is devoid of mission and purpose. So how do we make that a reality and get rid of the rationalizations for why we can't, and get more into the reality of how we can. We've got to answer this question well.

JC: When I think about retail, it can get easy to be apathetic. We see retail organizations that struggle with theft, or "shrinkage." How does someone who folds shirts and puts them back after endless amounts of customers unfold them find mission and purpose -- after folding shirts and cleaning up the clearance rack?

MM: Engagement makes us more emotionally intelligent and transforms what could previously be considered "menial" tasks. So I can "fold shirts" or I can "create a great first impression, high-class, high-touch impression for a potential new customer."

Think about the statement a messy clearance area sends vs. the statement a pristine, clean, crisp display sends. The pristine area sends a shockwave of respect and priority to a customer. As leaders, we have to connect that folded shirt to that first impression.

JC: Dave in the chat room asks how important it is for managers to set the tone on this, and then what's the importance of the employees?

MM: This item represents the true "cascade effect" of engagement. If mission and purpose is an event, spoken about once or twice a year, that won't cut it. We have to make sure senior leaders and managers are doing this well.

JC: When you talk about a culture of excellence, the manager needs to show the way. So in the retail store, if the manager sees clothing that's unfolded, what do they do? Do they expect excellence from everyone else but don't expect it from themselves?

I want to get to onboarding. What's the responsibility of onboarding to make sure the mission is portrayed to the customer?

MM: I think there is a huge statement -- even beyond onboarding -- on our talent attraction strategy and the passion they have for what they will be doing. The emotional appeal is so important because it connects deeply and personally with people. So we have to tie into this in our onboarding.

We asked a question a while back to a randomly selected group, "How important to you is the belief that your life is meaningful or has a purpose?" 83% said "very important" and 15% said "fairly important." This is a deep, fundamental need, and if we can tap into that in onboarding and in our talent attraction strategy, that cultural expectation can shape a new employee in their job from the second they arrive.

JC: In my experiences with interns, onboarding involves selecting the right employees first and then letting them grow into those roles. Where do we see those opportunities missed?

MM: I sometimes have done an exercise with executives in which I ask them to write down their company's mission statement. Do they know what it is, and how well do all the executives' statements align with each other? If we are this flimsy or casual about our company's mission, it is working against us -- it's merely a token statement that hangs on a wall.

Think about your star power within your organization. They are tapping into that emotional reservoir that leads to their great performance. There are three groups that show us when we're doing this right and when we're doing this wrong. For the first group that is not engaged around this item, they're punching a clock, doing a job; the second group sees their work as a career, but they still have the attitude that they will give only as much as they will receive in return. This is not terrible but won't move your organization forward.

The third group sees their work as a calling. And this can transcend any role. It's a belief statement, a value statement that they're contributing to the greater good. The book 12: The Elements of Great Managing mentions an ice cream brand that uses the slogan, "We believe in ice cream." And the belief behind that is, "Let's enjoy something today, and let's enjoy something together." If that statement means something to you, you should probably go to work for this organization that believes in ice cream.

JC: Mike, the group that is actively disengaged -- they are dangerous to your organization, but when we're talking about those for whom it's just a job (one level up from actively disengaged), they're taking a seat for someone who might be engaged. And they might stay around for a long time at your organization. As managers and leaders, this is a group we need to pay attention to.

MM: I think you're exactly right. If I don't extend effort and not get fired, why wouldn't others do the same?

JC: What have we seen and what advice would we give on what the best do?

MM: At Gallup, we talk about an organizational identity. It's represented by three components. The first is the purpose -- how do we live, and how do we accomplish work here? The second is the culture. What's the culture that supports the purpose? How does the culture bring the purpose to life? And the third is the external brand -- how are we known? If we do the first two right, our culture of engagement connects the purpose and the brand.

We also see a disconnect between Q08 (mission and purpose) and Q01 (expectations at work). We can have a strong level of expectation but an inability to connect that to the higher-ordered thinking of the company's mission and purpose. Or it can be the other way around -- where there is a strong connection to mission and purpose among employees, but the disconnect happens when they don't see how anything they do today connects to that mission and purpose.

So our best practice is, first, an individual development plan. This should connect the mission and purpose of the company to what the person does (their job). Strengths and strengths coaching is a fantastic tie-in to develop mission and purpose. Don Clifton says, "Strengths develop best in the framework of mission." Strengths and mission and purpose can serve to reinforce each other and become a nice self-propelling cycle.

JC: I love that individual development plan. I may be onboarding or may have been in the organization a while, but I need to continually think about how I can point my unique talents to the organization's mission in a way that makes us all win. It seems super-intuitive, but it's not. Even if you think you know this, it's an exercise you need to do with your Top 5, your Insight Report, and work through a goal -- and not just alone, but in the context of other employees.

MM: When you think about our state of the team conversation, my team is using our activated values at Gallup and making sure one or more of those are specifically tied to our action plans. I'm excited to see the results.

JC: If you don't get culture in your organization, lots of other areas will suffer, and you won't know they're suffering because you're not measuring them. This question gets to the heart of how to build a strengths-based culture. You start here.

MM: We have to look at ways to bring mission and purpose into our daily experience. We've talked about the negative effects of delaying recognition, and I think there's a similar dynamic going on with mission and purpose. If we don't talk about it often enough, maybe we feel fake or false when we do talk about it. So maybe we need to think about doing this more often, like every seven days.

JC: I think we sometimes shy away from the money metrics on the mission questions, and those two need to be intertwined. Even nonprofits have high mission, not only with their employees but with their donors or constituents. I know that might sound like blasphemy to some. Some of the best nonprofits I've seen take a businesslike approach. Money is just not going to appear. I think of the nonprofit Compassion (you can find their story on the Coaching Blog and search for Compassion International -- really good interview).

Even in those spaces where you might think mission and purpose matters, I don't think it's a "gimme." I think you have to work at this.

MM: The best stories, the most compelling stories that cause us to give, is to the organizations that can get us involved in the emotion, passion and spirit of the work they do. But some organizations don't press into this as well as they could. The money is another indicator of how important that shared mission and purpose is, and how effective organizations are at telling their stories. We want to be part of an effort that matters to the world.

JC: Mike, let's wrap this up. Final thoughts?

MM: I'd like us to think about three points.

  • First, Be really intentional about promoting your organization's mission to team members.
  • Second, Help employees see where their daily work connects with the organization's mission and purpose.
  • Third, Have people share their "mission moments." It will help propel the organization's mission and purpose forward. So create the space for sharing this.

JC: Mike, what resources are available, especially professional resources.

MM: We'd encourage people to think about our Engagement Champions course. This will immerse you engagement and help you coach and consult on engagement.

The other course we're excited about is Leading High-Performance Teams. It helps us understand ourselves as leaders, understanding how we lead teams through the lens of strengths, and then bringing that into performance through engagement.

There's also a Creating an Engaging Workplace Manager Packet for helping team leaders think of themselves as a coach.

Mike McDonald's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Input, Learner, Achiever and Focus.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


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