Creating Purpose and Meaning

by Lorne Mitchell on 12/01/2012

Following on from the popular RSAnimate video of Dan Pink’s great lecture describing the three attributes that really motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, I came across an equally impressive piece of work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in this month’s McKinsey Quarterly.  If you don’t already subscribe, it is well worth doing so.

In their recent book, The Progress Principle, Amabile and Kramer uncover the events that allow people to gain deep engagement in their jobs and make progress towards meaningful, purposeful work.  The McKinsey article (How leaders kill meaning at work) highlights four really interesting traps that leaders fall into that prevent the progression towards meaningful work.

These four traps outlined are:

  1. Mediocrity Signals
  2. Strategic “Attention Deficit Disorder”
  3. Corporate “Keystone Cops”
  4. Misbegotten “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAGs)

We all need a higher purpose – and if we cannot find it in our work we do, then we don’t work nearly as well than if we do have one.  The article ends with a simple set of ideas:

“As an executive, you are in a better position than anyone to identify and articulate the higher purpose of what people do within your organization. Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create the meaning that motivates people toward greatness. Along the way, you may find greater meaning in your own work as a leader.”

A bit cheesy, perhaps, but there are some useful case studies in the  article.

My parents founded The HALO Trust – a mine clearance charity that has grown very successfully, over the years.  The purpose of the organisation has remained the same since its inception: “GETTING MINES OUT OF THE GROUND, NOW”.  Very present.  Very simple.  Very effective.  And the motto has really stood the test of time and allows everyone in HALO to focus on a very clear and important purpose.

I am sure that every reader has other interesting stories of their own – both positive and negative – which I would love you to share below!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Charles January 12, 2012 at 14:29

And it is always worth reading Parkinson’s Law to remind you why it is happening to you – “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. I read it every year when I was a Civil Servant, to remind me that some of the traps you mention were part of the system …..

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2 Anonymous January 12, 2012 at 14:32

Indeed, Charles. Isn’t it funny how many times examples of the traps come from government. 😉

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