Recently, a client of mine was reflecting on a former boss who really understood how to create a sense of purpose. She clearly recalled her first day on the job at a local hospital. Her new boss said, “Cheryl, your job is to create a safe, clean environment to help our patients go home with their families as soon as possible.” This got her excited about coming to work. It just so happened that Cheryl created a safe, clean environment by washing dishes, but that was secondary to the sense of purpose that she now had.

All of us are in search of a clear and driving purpose for our lives; we want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. The world of work offers a great opportunity for people to connect with a purpose. Without a purpose, your team is just putting in time. Their minds might be engaged, but their hearts will not be. A team without a purpose is a team without passion. Your team members may achieve short-term results, but they won’t have the heart to go the distance.

A purpose is your team’s bridge to a brighter tomorrow … and you have to build it! It is not a project goal, financial target or strategic plan. Your team won’t get emotionally charged about a “10 percent net profit,” a “20 percent return on investment” or a “30 percent increase in market share.” A compelling purpose is a reason to be excited about getting up and going to work every day.

A purpose can come in all varieties – perhaps it’s to help others, to make the world a better place, to innovate or to win. For example, Disney’s purpose is “to make dreams come true.” Coke works diligently to develop its purpose: to put a Coke within reach of every person on Earth. Pepsi’s purpose is to “beat Coke!” Your organization’s real purpose may not be apparent at first glance. For instance, a company that distributes building products to homebuilders may not seem to have a compelling cause; but a deeper look reveals that they “help make the American dream a reality.” That’s a cause worth working for!

Be bold. Step back and look at the big picture. Think about how your team improves conditions for others. Your purpose should answer the questions, “Why do we exist?” And “How do we improve the lives of others?” It should stir the emotions. Keep it short and sweet – use simple language and keep it to less than 10 words or so. For example, a customer call center may have a purpose “to brighten the day of each caller by solving a problem.” A data security department’s cause could be “to ensure confidence by securing customers’ most private information.” For a human resources department, it might be “to create a family that likes to win together.”

Engage your team by asking them how their jobs relate to your team’s purpose. Some questions you might pose include:

“How does our purpose make you feel?” (If you hear responses like proud, important, connected, helpful or like a winner, then you’re on the right track.)
“Does our purpose make you look at your job differently?”
“Do our roles, procedures, resources, skills and priorities support our ability to achieve our purpose?”
“What can you change or do differently to better support our purpose?”
“What can I change or do differently to better support our purpose?”

Inspiring leaders don’t depend on chance, they lead on purpose.  

Action Questions:

1. What is my team’s purpose?

2. Does the team know and clearly understand its purpose?

3. Is it emotionally compelling?

“The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.”
– Norman Vincent Peale