Multiplying the Impact of Purpose and Meaning

Call center agents
Excerpt from The Search for Meaning at Work: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Purpose to Engage and Fulfill Your Workforce by Steve Van Valin, SVP of Culture Transformation

In some ways, leaders of the past instinctively, if not consciously, understood the link among purpose, meaning, and engagement; however, they looked at the source of meaning at work only from one dimension. They focused on identifying the extent to which a person sees their work as having an impact on the success of the company. Indeed, the success of the company can be a powerful purpose for working.

Well-intended managers, however, have been confounded to make a relevant meaning connection if it’s not clearly evident in the nature of the work itself. For example, what if your people do routine work like take calls in a call center, run a piece of machinery, pack trucks with boxes, or something else that is granular work behind the scenes? Meaning as a motivating factor is just as important to the people in these roles. It’s a mistake to underestimate that fact. We certainly want them to be engaged to perform. Do we have other options to consider, beyond helping the company to succeed, that would give them the sense of meaning they deserve? The answer is yes.

I am happy to report that managers don’t have to limit their efforts to amplify meaning to the single dimension of the company. Hopefully, that might provide some relief for you if you’ve struggled to do so. Instead of assuming that meaning is too far-fetched and ignoring it, you can set yourself apart as a leader by identifying and tapping into factors that matter greatly to people.

Think about the workers at the printing company. Were they driven by an overriding desire for the company to succeed? Not so much. It was the purpose of doing right by their families that gave their work meaning. Family is one of the amplifiers of meaning. Are there more? You bet.

Distilling my experiences and knowledge by asking who or what could be the important someone or something that workers are contributing value to, I identified 11 amplifiers of meaning:

1. Self-satisfaction: Making progress toward feeling positively challenged and respected in the daily grind of the work.
2. Family: Making progress toward benefiting your family as a result of the work.
3. Work partner: Making progress in strengthening the closest working relationship(s) at work by being supportive and investing in each other’s success.
4. Team: Making progress toward a sense of belonging as an integral team contributor and valued member.
5. Manager: Making progress by satisfying the boss in ways that earn back respect and advocacy.
6. Department: Making progress by being unified in achieving the departmental objectives that support the goals and strategies of the organization.
7. Company: Making progress by aligning your role and work priorities to impact the overall success of the organization.
8. Customer: Making progress by being a difference maker in the customer experience.
9. Community: Making progress toward growing the health and strength of the local community.
10. World society: Making progress toward benefitting others by improving the condition of humanity and the world.
11. Spirituality: Making progress toward living out the highest-level ideals and beliefs that govern your life.

If their work enables a person to contribute value to themselves, their families, their work partners, their teams, or their managers or departments, for example, that work will be meaningful.