This is a refreshed version of a post from March 2010.
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 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 objective 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 function, I was an expense to the organization and thus a liability.
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, even most businesses, is probably not principally about money. It is more than likely something else, something that has to do with providing a service, with making money as an outcome of that. 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 build loyal business relationships.
But sometimes I think we forget. We take our eye away from our fundamental purpose and allow ourselves to get fixated on the dollars. That’s when we risk running afoul of ourselves. We get greedy. We get miserly. We get our priorities out of order. And then we get into trouble.
So to me, helping people understand and believe in the organizational purpose is Job One. And, part of this is ensuring they know why their jobs exist; whom they are there to serve; and how what they do fits with the overall vision of the organization.
Here are a few of the benefits that can be realized from taking a purpose-driven approach:
It helps us make good decisions and prioritize appropriately. If we train ourselves to ask the question, how will doing this, (or not doing this) help me serve my purpose? The answer will often give us the information we need to move forward.
It helps us resolve problems. Often problems can 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 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 part of something important. When that happens people are more likely to do their best work.
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.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?