Purpose

Daniel Pink suggests that explaining the purpose of work can have a dramatic effect on productivity: Have you ever asked yourself why you’re in business?

Good stuff. It’s something that easily gets lost in meetings when people get too obsessed with action and don’t make enough room to connect with the meanings and feelings of those present.

Last year I was involved helping an international organisation implement a new management structure. (This counts as pretty heavy lifting for someone like me). Much of the energy went into explaining the “how” of the new approach, with lots of work on detailed protocols and systems. The “why” was addressed to some degree but without much feeling.

You can probably imagine the sense of reluctance of many participants, and the tendency to get bogged down in territorial disputes.

A major turning point came when one of those involved spoke for about 15 minutes about how he felt about it, connecting it to his passion about the work and the value the approach might bring. He didn’t get into the details but he conveyed with passion why those details mattered.

And he had something else you can’t learn from a textbook: he had authenticity – it was easy to believe him; and he had humility – you could feel you were not being harangued and you weren’t being “motivated” as a technique.

This much more personal statement had a big impact, much as those reported by Pink did. But I think the tone was every bit as important as the content. And it helped a lot that this organisation itself had a purpose beyond money within which such an appeal could be framed.

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