By Mike Cook
For The Bellingham Business Journal
Who among us hasn’t been there? On a given day we wake up and realize our life, our career, maybe the company we are working for, or own, has become too transactional. The creativity is minimal, the inspiration is absent, the evidence of task focus and attention on personal advancement or accumulation for its own sake is everywhere.
We take a step back and realize that there must be more to our working life (most of our adult life) than making money, fixating on profit and make no difference to anyone, not even ourselves. And then, more often than not we finish getting ready for work and forget this critical question for another period while the time of our life is passing by. So sad but maybe too true, we find our solace in our “stuff:” nice house, nice car, etc.
There’s nothing wrong with nice stuff, by the way. The question is: what does it have to do with anything, anything being our purpose? Well, there’s no time like now to get started on answering that question.
How do I know that purpose is a worthy topic for an article right now? If by now we mean that period of NOW covering the last twenty-five years then maybe this will help. I am by training and calling a guy who has worked for twenty-five years doing whatever I could to show people, employers, managers and employees, that there does not need to be anywhere near the amount of suffering we tolerate in our places of work. By suffering I do not mean the jostle and bruising that is normal in the workplace, I mean what we add to the inherent pain that goes along with any high contact endeavor. How am I doing? If I look at the numbers, about 30 percent of the workers today say they see themselves as truly engaged in their places of work and with the work they are doing. Thirty percent is not a very high number, and that has been fairly consistent over that twenty-five-year period. So by that measure I’d say I am failing. But … there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
The first step to resolving a problem is to recognize that you have one. Remember how long it took the auto industry to respond to consumers’ demand for higher quality vehicles? Long enough to lose a significant portion of the market they created. Now, however, the U.S. automakers have responded and are putting out automobiles that equal and in many cases exceed their foreign competitors, they are no longer losing market share and the industry as a whole is doing remarkably well.
And so it is, I say, with the levels of employee engagement in our workplaces. Over the past ten years increasing numbers of books have appeared that prescribed to employers what they could do to improve employee engagement. Finally, someone has realized that “engagement” really describes a relationship not just an absolute measure. What if the measure of engagement was really identifying a location, a place, a condition but not necessarily a destination? Nexus, or alignment are probably the words I am looking for. What if going back to my opening two paragraphs, rather than shrugging our shoulders and soldering on we began to seek that “place” where our own personal purpose lined up with the purpose of the role we play in our workplace and the overall purpose of our organization? Maybe there is such a sweet spot and it brings everything into focus.
This week there’s a new book out by Dan Pontefract called “The Purpose Effect”. Pontefract currently serves as what he has titled himself as the chief envisioner at TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications firm. Chief envisioner may seem like a lofty title but, Pontefract has the results to back up his claim to the title. Employee engagement at TELUS is currently measured at nearly 90 percent. That is not a typo, almost 90 percent is the current measure of employee engagement and it has been running at that level for several years.
Pontefract’s theory is that there is a sweet spot for each of us and it is locatable, but it does take some work to get there. Is Pontefract’s work the end of the search for engagement? Not likely, but it does move us along the journey to find meaning in our work, and that can’t be a bad thing.