When I first came to Vancouver to take up my new role as a Human Resources Consultant with a major bank, my boss and I agreed that I should go on a road trip and meet with as many corporate banking employees as possible. It was sort of an orientation thing for me and perhaps provided a chance for everyone else to give me the “once over”. Coming from Toronto, it seemed I was automatically not to be trusted.
On one occasion, I was to talk with a number of Corporate Account Managers. My purpose was to get to know them as individuals; to learn about their ambitions; their challenges; and how we might better support their efforts. It is entirely possible though that I did not adequately declare my intent, because the first person I encountered, pulled his chair very close to mine; stared sharply into my face and said, “I make money for the bank. What do you do?”
Aside from the obvious attempt to intimidate me, his question was meant to suggest that as a person who made no direct contribution to the bottom line, whatever my purpose, I was an expense to the organization and thus unimportant.
This is not an uncommon perspective to take, especially in large organizations. But at the time, I couldn’t help but think that there was something gravely missing from this outlook.
It occurs to me now that “making money for the bank”, while an admirable outcome, did not tell me anything about what this fellow saw as his purpose. And, for me at least, there is something lost when a person seems to view his primary raison d’être as making money.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I like money as well as the next person and there is a primal need to earn it and manage it prudently. But, the purpose of most jobs, or even most businesses is probably not principally about money. It is more than likely something else, something that has to do with being of service. Making money is an outcome of providing that service. The amount of money earned is usually determined by the quality and consistency of the service delivered and the ability of those who deliver it, to engender loyalty among a growing constituency.
But sometimes I think we forget. We take our eye away from our fundamental purpose and allow ourselves to get fixated on the dollars. And that’s when we risk running afoul of ourselves. We get greedy. We get parsimonious. We get our priorities out of order. And then we get into trouble.
For instance, there are a number of “recall” situations in the automobile industry. Somewhere along the line, I suspect these companies have strayed from their fundamental purpose, which to me goes something like, Make good, reliable cars & keep people safe, or something to that effect. It doesn’t have to be complicated. People just have to know what it is and be able to access it when they need to re-focus.
And that is where good leadership is key. People need to know why their jobs exist; whom they are there to serve; and how it all fits together.
I think this is so because…
- It helps us in making good decisions and prioritizing appropriately. If we train ourselves to ask the question, how will doing this, (or not doing this) help me to serve my purpose? The answer will often give us the information we need to move forward.
- It helps us when we tackle problems. Often problems can start to build on each other and become so complex that we get lost in them. When this happens, it sometimes helps to get back to the basic questions like, what is my main purpose and who am I here to serve?
- It helps us stay connected to the overall purpose of the organization. Knowing why our jobs exist and how they fit into the bigger picture makes it easier to stay focused on what’s important.
- It gives value to every role in the organization, not just a few. If you nurture a culture that identifies the purpose and value of each job in relation to the overall vision and to each other, everyone in the organization has an opportunity to feel important.
- It promotes good stewardship. If we are clear about our purpose, it is that much easier to recognize and fulfill our responsibilities to those we serve.
So, what do you think? What have I missed? When you think about your job, what do you see as its purpose? Knowing that, does it make it easier? Harder? Or does it make no difference at all? You tell me.