Purpose, key to achieve happiness at work. - Part I: The company
I remember very well the final images of the movie The Truman Show: a staircase that leads to a door that he must open and venture into the unknown, with the conviction that it will be good for him.
Well, that was what I saw that morning of August 1998 when I left Colombia to follow my dream, my vocation and what I would called today my Purpose in life (at that time I did not know how to define it) that it was none other than serving less privileged people, people in difficult situations.
That day I saw the door that I had to open to start my way of living according to my Purpose. And since then, that image has been repeated throughout my life, every time I decide to start a new adventure.
Looking at my life in retrospect, I can see how at the age of 17 years while participating in a leadership training, I read a quote from the Indian poet, philosopher and thinker Rabindranath Tagore that basically marked my life from that moment:
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy. "
Despite that was clear at that time, it took me almost 10 years of multiple activities and a permanent pursue of happiness before I started to live in a consistent manner with that Purpose.
And I did it by going to work, to live, in the world of humanitarian aid with organizations working on emergency projects providing assistance to populations affected by conflicts, natural disasters and epidemics.
The missions of these organizations are so meaningful that when I joined them, I felt fully realized and identified with their lines of action, their objectives.
I can say with total clarity that I was happy. That even with the difficult living and working conditions, we were happy serving through these humanitarian organizations. And this is basically because one feel happiness when working for an organization, call it a business enterprise, a NGO or similar, that has a clear Purpose and its actions are aligned to it.
That is why I was able to live for more than 14 years in difficult conditions, inserted in violent and emergency contexts, far from what was my reality before starting this path.
Extreme situations such as the conflicts in Angola, Chad and Darfur. The permanent threats of antipersonnel mines in Angola, the presence of snipers in Indonesia or some criminal gangs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Not to forget the conditions of insecurity of our teams navigating the rivers of western Colombia or the difficult living conditions in South Sudan….
None of this would have been possible, if I did not have that personal Purpose that fit perfectly with the humanitarian purpose of the organizations for which I worked during those years.
That is why, based on my personal experience, I consider that the most important concept when we talk about happiness at work, and in general about happiness, is the Purpose that a company or organization must have.
The Purpose is what helps us stay on track, what inspires us to leave as a legacy, the contribution we want to make for a better future. It is broad, inspiring, motivating and based on what we can do for others, so it is external to us. It is a fundamental aspect in our organizations to achieve to have happy, committed and empowered employees.
At business level, progressive organizations have begun to include it within the key definitions such as mission, vision, values, principles and declarations of intention.
Companies that have incorporated the Purpose to their daily life, notice a general evolution of the business as this becomes essential for motivation and retention of Talent, and at the same time define its raison d'etre and help debugging all the activities that are out of the line of action.
In short, it helps to strengthen the company.
Unfortunately, not all seem to realize the importance of the Purpose for the benefit of the company in all areas, the least quantifiable such as organizational culture, Talent, leadership and also for those more concrete such as marketing and finances.
In many cases the need to find the Purpose of the company is not perceived as relevant, since it is erroneously believed, that having defined the mission, vision and values is sufficient. And it is not like that. The Purpose is crucial.
Moreover, there is a common confusion between these terms and we need to start clarifying them, understanding their differences, their definitions, as this will allow us to have a solid foundation on which to build our company into the future.
PURPOSE responds to WHY we exist.
We can say that for our company or organization is the Why of its existence, its reason for being. It is like the great framework that frames the actions, policies, activities, products and services and all the management and marketing practices of the company. You can consider it the star that guides our horizon.
The Purpose once defined does not change, it is permanent, and it serves to inspire and stimulate changes and progress.
The Purpose communicates the emotional connection of being part of a new disruptive idea that will benefit the world. This is a very inspiring and beneficial concept to attract the type of talent required.
MISSION, however, is much more concrete, defines WHAT we do. It helps us to make a working plan to keep us on track. Describes the key benefits and innovation initiatives.
The mission describes what is the key business the organization is in (and which one it is not) both now and projecting into the future. Its objective is to provide a reference frame for managers and all the staff.
On the other hand, VISION represents the place where we want to be in a future period of time, usually in 5 or 10 years. It serves as a motivator to do things in a better way to achieve that in that future we reach what we visualize and thus keep that goal in mind.
In other words, the vision is straightforward and clarifies the commercial objective. As it is measurable, attainable and determined, the company can monitor and communicate its progress, which is in turn very motivating.
The values, and in some cases also the principles, that the companies define are the behavioral referents that all the people who work and lead the company must have. There are the words that contribute to create a philosophy to which we must all promulgate, encourage and act according to.
Going deeper into the subject, we can say that the Purpose is the permanent reason for the existence of a company or organization.
It is the central axis of our organization, with which we can discern when we have to make decisions that generate real value to what we do. It helps us to make decisions with an eye on the medium and long term and acts as a motivating element for workers.
If I had to choose, I firmly believe that it is preferable the absence of PURPOSE and not the incoherence of the company with the stated purpose
The Purpose is not an initiative, it is not a strategy. It is the vital center of the organization.
It must be fundamental for decisions, conversations and behaviors at all levels of the company, lead to its authenticity and achieve the competitive advantages it claims to have.
We could say that the Purpose is the reference photo we have when we start making a puzzle of many pieces. It is there to guide us, to help us not get out of a frame and to have our actions moving within that great dream.
The Purpose is what we are doing as a company for others, for the society and should be motivating, because it connects the heart and the head.
Having a Purpose as a company, as an organization, greatly contributes to having happier employees working for us, since they have a bigger incentive than the economic one.
Because only when an organization is really framed for a purpose, its employees really began to appreciate what it means to them and their work.
It is essential that the Purpose is clear, understandable, inspiring and adherent. It should bring hope and motivates to be part of something bigger than a simple daily work, something that transcends and that makes people feel satisfaction, that gives them happiness.
If the purpose is authentic, people know it, because it drives every decision and you do things that other companies would not do.
You cannot have a purpose that employees know is not authentic, that it has been written to motivate but that they consider it is empty, hypocritical.
The purpose must be equal to authenticity and must emanate from the leaders of the organization. Employees need to hear leaders speak genuinely about why their work is important, and leaders must demonstrate with their daily actions that the purpose is really central to the company and the decisions they make.
Just looking at the guiding example, workers can feel safe and confident to adhere to the purpose because they will not see it empty and full of intentions but something concrete that transpires in every corner of the organization.
Finally, I want to highlight how disastrous it is that a company is not consistent with its Purpose.
If I had to choose, I firmly believe that it is preferable the absence of PURPOSE and not the incoherence of the company with the stated purpose.
It is useless to have a well written, motivating purpose that generates commitment if in practice the company is not faithful to it, it is not consistent in its way of acting. This is much more harmful than not having a written purpose.
This is the first part (out of 3) entries to share what I spoke at the 5th International Congress of Happiness at Work held in Bogotá on November 28, 2019, where I focused on the importance of having a Purpose when we talk about Happiness at work.