I was reading a blog article from Harvard Business Review editor, Umair Haque, (read the article here) and it helped shift my worldview of the meaning of “purpose” when it comes to engagement. I read Dan Pink’s book, Drive, a while ago and I have to admit, I kinda breezed through this section…or maybe it just didn’t resonate until now. The idea of “purpose” from a business standpoint has always been measured by objective and sterile outputs, but the human equivalent does not look for output, they are looking for outcomes. Outcomes have meaning.
We do not think in terms of dollar$ or time, we think in terms of what that gets us. The money and the time are outputs, what we are able to do with them are outcomes. If I work hard and get a bonus or raise, that is an output of me working hard. The outcome is I can buy a new car, new home, new TV, send my kid to college, etc. The money in itself has no intrinsic meaning. The gold hungry King Midas, with all his power, in the end asked to only be saved from starvation. Time, likewise, has no intrinsic power. It is what we do with that time that has value, has meaning. So working more efficiently only has meaning if the time gained is used for something. So one has to ask, like Midas, is capitalism suffering from starvation? Nevermind the very real cost of food today (at its highest global level ever – see here) it seems the lust for gold does not satiate. Communicating organizational goals in terms of dollars and time only leave the weak, weary, and hungry to ask “okay, but to what end?”
This is where your organizational mission, vision, and values come into play and why they need to be more than words on a plaque. In fact, typically, if that is the only place you see them, then the plaque is worth more than the words on them. This desire for “purpose”, for outcomes begs to be communicated in real terms, terms that have meaning. So if your company goal is to reach $1 billion in net revenue over the next two years, the question all your workers are asking is “To what end?” As you trickle down the organizational ladder searching for efficiencies and money savings, and production growth, the question still needs to be answered if you want people to care about it. And, you can’t answer it with another term of output. If I work harder and faster, what do I get? Not as an output, but as an outcome that means something to me?