Want to get ahead? Clarify your Purpose!

I coach a variety of people on career transitions and leadership performance and a regular complaint or observation I hear when it comes to doing things differently is that ‘I don’t’ have time’ or I’m too busy’.  I’m sure these are phrases you have probably used yourself?  I know I have.

The challenge with this complaint or mindset is that, as we all know, we can’t create more time.  So we develop time management tools and tips such as time logs, Eisenhower’s matrix, focussing your attention on one thing at a time, etc to try and help us ‘manage our time better’.

There is equally a fallacy in the thought of ‘how do I manage my time’ better as by the same token we can’t manage time – HBR captured this idea nicely in their article ‘Manage my Energy not my Time’ where the authors recognised time is finite and if organisations want more out of people then they need to start by helping employees recharge themselves so they can bring more of themselves to work.  The article does some great tips about how to change things to boost your energy so worth a read.

However, my personal contention is that even if you have more energy if you don’t have clarity of where to focus this energy you still run the risk of lacking in effectiveness.

This is where the idea of Purpose comes in.  By purpose I mean that fundamental reason of why you are here, the difference you want to make in the world.  Simon Sinek talks about this with passion in his talk ‘Why you should start with Why’ (also worth a watch).

When I work with individuals, I encourage them to think about Purpose through 3 lenses to help them start to clarify their own Why.  If you can’t articulate ‘Why you are here’ then it becomes really difficult to focus your energy on things that actually make a difference and contribute to you raising your own levels of performance.

Lens 1 – Social Purpose

Social purpose is the difference you want to make in the world outside of work and I personally feel this is a starting point.  The idea of bringing ‘our whole selves’ to work is not new – but if we don’t understand our social purpose how can we even identify our ‘Whole self’ that we want to bring?

So this is about taking time to think about the difference we want to make to those people around us – our families, friends and society through our social interactions.  Being a more present parent or partner. Contributing to society in its wider sense in a way that makes us feel we are adding value to others.

Lens 2 – Role Purpose

Role purpose is understanding why the role you have at work exists.  The difference it is supposed to make.  It’s not your job description – that’s a list of tasks that you need to accomplish.  Having clarity on the ‘Why’ allows you to prioritise your work effectively, identify what is really important, recognise which meetings you should attend and the value that you can bring.  It’s understanding the outcome you are trying to achieve rather than the task you are expected to do.  Without this level of clarity, you risk just be seen as busy or working long hours without necessarily being perceived as really adding value.

This is about getting clarity from your boss not just on your job description and objectives but why those particular objectives exist – focussing your conversations on the outcomes that are required rather than on the specifics.  I suspect you all have seen objectives set, or targets defined that focus the mind but don’t really deliver the long-term outcomes expected. What do you need to do to challenge this and bring greater clarity for yourself?

Lens 3 – Organisational Purpose

This is a little bit trickier to get your head around.  The research around engagement talks about recognising how your role really connects to the organisation as a whole – but having worked with a wide range of people thinking about organisational purpose can sometimes feel a little ethereal. The challenge here is finding the purpose at as high a level as you can in the system you work in.  This is the part that creates a sense of feeling that you are really part of something bigger than yourself that can energise and engage you.

Ask the question of those around you – ‘what is the difference this organisation is trying to make?’.   There is a whole shift towards people wanting to be part of something that makes a difference.  What is it that your organisation stands for that makes it uniquely different to its competition?  What does it do that makes you want to be part of it?  And how do you contribute to this?

When your Purpose is lacking balance!

If there is massive unbalance in the 3 lenses then there are some potential consequences that ought to be paid attention to.

Poor clarity on Social Purpose can lead to an ‘all work and no fun’ scenario and really inhibit resilience when going through tough patches.

Poor clarity on Role Purpose can lead to being seen as lacking in effectiveness or difficulty in prioritising leading to potentially being perceived as  ‘busy doing nothing’.

Poor clarity on Organisational Purpose can easily lead to feeling disengaged or disconnected from the organisation leading to ‘doing the bare minimum’.

Take some time to think about this for yourself:

  1. Score yourself on the level of clarity through each lens from 1 – 10 (1 being none, 10 being laser-sighted clarity)
  2. What needs to change to have more balance?
  3. What needs to change to give yourself more purpose and increase your effectiveness?

Contact us here if you want to talk about we can help your people raise their performance!