key to achieve happiness at work
I remember very well the final images of the movie The Truman Show: a staircase that leads to a door that he must open and venture into the unknown, with the conviction that it will be good for him.
Well, that was what I saw that morning of August 1998 when I left Colombia to follow my dream, my vocation and what I would called today my Purpose in life (at that time I did not know how to define it) that it was none other than serving less privileged people, people in difficult situations.
That day I saw the door that I had to open to start my way of living according to my Purpose. And since then, that image has been repeated throughout my life, every time I decide to start a new adventure.
Looking at my life in retrospect, I can see how at the age of 17 years while participating in a leadership training, I read a quote from the Indian poet, philosopher and thinker Rabindranath Tagore that basically marked my life from that moment:
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy. “
Despite that was clear at that time, it took me almost 10 years of multiple activities and a permanent pursue of happiness before I started to live in a consistent manner with that Purpose.
And I did it by going to work, to live, in the world of humanitarian aid with organizations working on emergency projects providing assistance to populations affected by conflicts, natural disasters and epidemics.
The missions of these organizations are so meaningful that when I joined them, I felt fully realized and identified with their lines of action, their objectives.
I can say with total clarity that I was happy. That even with the difficult living and working conditions, we were happy serving through these humanitarian organizations. And this is basically because one feel happiness when working for an organization, call it a business enterprise, a NGO or similar, that has a clear Purpose and its actions are aligned to it.
That is why I was able to live for more than 14 years in difficult conditions, inserted in violent and emergency contexts, far from what was my reality before starting this path.
Extreme situations such as the conflicts in Angola, Chad and Darfur. The permanent threats of antipersonnel mines in Angola, the presence of snipers in Indonesia or some criminal gangs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Not to forget the conditions of insecurity of our teams navigating the rivers of western Colombia or the difficult living conditions in South Sudan….
None of this would have been possible, if I did not have that personal Purpose that fit perfectly with the humanitarian purpose of the organizations for which I worked during those years.
That is why, based on my personal experience, I consider that the most important concept when we talk about happiness at work, and in general about happiness, is the Purpose that a company or organization must have.
The Purpose is what helps us stay on track, what inspires us to leave as a legacy, the contribution we want to make for a better future. It is broad, inspiring, motivating and based on what we can do for others, so it is external to us. It is a fundamental aspect in our organizations to achieve to have happy, committed and empowered employees.
At business level, progressive organizations have begun to include it within the key definitions such as mission, vision, values, principles and declarations of intention.
Companies that have incorporated the Purpose to their daily life, notice a general evolution of the business as this becomes essential for motivation and retention of Talent, and at the same time define its raison d’etre and help debugging all the activities that are out of the line of action.
In short, it helps to strengthen the company.
Unfortunately, not all seem to realize the importance of the Purpose for the benefit of the company in all areas, the least quantifiable such as organizational culture, Talent, leadership and also for those more concrete such as marketing and finances.
In many cases the need to find the Purpose of the company is not perceived as relevant, since it is erroneously believed, that having defined the mission, vision and values is sufficient. And it is not like that. The Purpose is crucial.
Moreover, there is a common confusion between these terms and we need to start clarifying them, understanding their differences, their definitions, as this will allow us to have a solid foundation on which to build our company into the future.
PURPOSE responds to WHY we exist.
We can say that for our company or organization is the Why of its existence, its reason for being. It is like the great framework that frames the actions, policies, activities, products and services and all the management and marketing practices of the company. You can consider it the star that guides our horizon.
The Purpose once defined does not change, it is permanent, and it serves to inspire and stimulate changes and progress.
The Purpose communicates the emotional connection of being part of a new disruptive idea that will benefit the world. This is a very inspiring and beneficial concept to attract the type of talent required.
MISSION, however, is much more concrete, defines WHAT we do. It helps us to make a working plan to keep us on track. Describes the key benefits and innovation initiatives.
The mission describes what is the key business the organization is in (and which one it is not) both now and projecting into the future. Its objective is to provide a reference frame for managers and all the staff.
On the other hand, VISION represents the place where we want to be in a future period of time, usually in 5 or 10 years. It serves as a motivator to do things in a better way to achieve that in that future we reach what we visualize and thus keep that goal in mind.
In other words, the vision is straightforward and clarifies the commercial objective. As it is measurable, attainable and determined, the company can monitor and communicate its progress, which is in turn very motivating.
The values, and in some cases also the principles, that the companies define are the behavioral referents that all the people who work and lead the company must have. There are the words that contribute to create a philosophy to which we must all promulgate, encourage and act according to.
Going deeper into the subject, we can say that the Purpose is the permanent reason for the existence of a company or organization.
It is the central axis of our organization, with which we can discern when we have to make decisions that generate real value to what we do. It helps us to make decisions with an eye on the medium and long term and acts as a motivating element for workers.
The Purpose is not an initiative, it is not a strategy. It is the vital center of the organization.
It must be fundamental for decisions, conversations and behaviors at all levels of the company, lead to its authenticity and achieve the competitive advantages it claims to have.
We could say that the Purpose is the reference photo we have when we start making a puzzle of many pieces. It is there to guide us, to help us not get out of a frame and to have our actions moving within that great dream.
The Purpose is what we are doing as a company for others, for the society and should be motivating, because it connects the heart and the head.
Having a Purpose as a company, as an organization, greatly contributes to having happier employees working for us, since they have a bigger incentive than the economic one.
Because only when an organization is really framed for a purpose, its employees really began to appreciate what it means to them and their work.
It is essential that the Purpose is clear, understandable, inspiring and adherent. It should bring hope and motivates to be part of something bigger than a simple daily work, something that transcends and that makes people feel satisfaction, that gives them happiness.
If the purpose is authentic, people know it, because it drives every decision and you do things that other companies would not do.
You cannot have a purpose that employees know is not authentic, that it has been written to motivate but that they consider it is empty, hypocritical.
The purpose must be equal to authenticity and must emanate from the leaders of the organization. Employees need to hear leaders speak genuinely about why their work is important, and leaders must demonstrate with their daily actions that the purpose is really central to the company and the decisions they make.
Just looking at the guiding example, workers can feel safe and confident to adhere to the purpose because they will not see it empty and full of intentions but something concrete that transpires in every corner of the organization.
Finally, I want to highlight how disastrous it is that a company is not consistent with its Purpose.
If I had to choose, I firmly believe that it is preferable the absence of PURPOSE and not the incoherence of the company with the stated purpose.
It is useless to have a well written, motivating purpose that generates commitment if in practice the company is not faithful to it, it is not consistent in its way of acting. This is much more harmful than not having a written purpose.
Let move on to talk about the importance of the Purpose for the company and what we should do to help employees to adhere to the Purpose of the company.
The importance of the Purpose can be appreciated when it becomes part of the collective consciousness of the company, promoting a change in its culture and motivating the organization to begin to perform at a higher level.
Likewise, having the Purpose incorporated makes the processes simpler and easier to execute and sustain. People start looking for permanent solutions instead of provisional measures, they really get involved, because the sense of belonging is higher.
Having defined its Purpose provides several advantages for the company:
• Makes decision making easier:
Having a purpose, one may ask: “Is this action that I am about to perform aligned with the purpose or not?” If so, we move on. Otherwise, we should consider removing it from the list of things to do.
• Help align the Organization:
The purpose ensures that everyone in an organization, no matter how large or complex, is on the same page.
• The Commitment is more real and profound:
The more employees believe in the purpose of the organization, the more passionate and committed they will be in their work.
• It is an Innovation Driver:
When the hearts and minds of employees are committed to a Purpose, there is no way to stop their natural desire to find increasingly meaningful and innovative ways to fulfill it.
• It gives meaning to your Brand:
Organizations with a defined Purpose use internal fire to tell who they really are and what they represent, eliminating any disconnection between how the company is promoted and what the client feels.
• Belonging and Happiness:
Companies with a deeper Purpose attract better people to their environment, those that identify with us.
Likewise, companies that have a Purpose manage to retain their workers more effectively.
The purpose is the foundation that reminds people why they do what they do and that it matters.
• An enriched organizational Culture:
Purpose-driven organizations tend to have organizational cultures based on values, principles and the commitment to share the Purpose. They often become companies considered as excellent places to work.
All companies should have a Purpose, this is not only for large or multinational companies, but also for small, local businesses. This regardless of whether they are service providers or producers of goods.
Ideally when creating the company, we should think about the Purpose of it. That would be the ideal way to start the work of any organization, knowing its essence, its Why.
I imagine the amount of mistakes, worries, loss of time and opportunities that companies would avoid if they have established their Purpose from the beginning, and were guided by it.
It turns out that something that sounds obvious is not in reality as a large majority of companies and organizations do not define their Purpose at the time of starting work or conceiving their lines of action and should do so later, when they have already walked part of the way.
According to a study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers with more than 500 of its clients in the United States, 79% of business leaders believe that having a Purpose is fundamental to the future of their companies, but only 34% have established their Purpose and govern their decisions consistently with it.
So, from my point of view, companies must recognize the importance of having a Purpose, and start building it immediately, transmit it at all levels and act in a consistent manner with it.
Ideally, the Purpose should be built with the participation of all levels of the company because that makes it more solid, broader and much easier to incorporate into the DNA of the organization because it has been built with the contributions of workers, not only management levels
However, some companies continue to make decisions and establish essential parameters from top to bottom, so the effort to transmit the message to the bases needs more time and dedication.
Unfortunately, when defining the Purpose, many companies follow this dynamic, with which the process of appropriation of the Purpose must have a defined and constant strategy.
Some of the ideas and actions that we must keep in mind to help the Purpose be adhered to by all the workers of our company include:
• Domino effect
Finding a positive example (a person, a team, a business unit) that exceeds expectations and can serve as inspiration for the rest of the organization is vital for the Purpose to be adhered to.
When Purpose is made constant and never doubted, it is amazing what happens: The purpose is transformed into collective consciousness and therefore the culture changes and the organization begins to function at a higher level. The processes become simpler and easier to execute and sustain.
• The role of middle managers
To create an inspired and committed workforce, middle managers need to know the purpose of the organization and connect deeply with it and lead with moral authority.
This goes beyond what most companies ask their staff in these positions within the company.
• The dynamizers
Each organization has a group of agents of change that generally is not taken advantage of. We can classify them as (positive) dynamizers and we must help them connect, create a group among them as these people move, share ideas and collect comments and new ideas. The dynamizers are usually willing to tell the truth and openly challenge the assumptions, the sacred cows, the dogmas that we have as a company
• Connect people with the Purpose
Once we have the leaders and middle managers aware and empowered with the purpose, it is time to expand their internalization to all levels of the organization. But this cannot be done vertically.
Employees should help driving this process, because then the purpose is more likely to permeate the culture, shape the behavior even when managers are not there to see how people are handling things.
• Recruitment process
Another way to ensure that the Purpose is adhered to by the entire workforce, is to make it visible in our recruitment so that from the process itself they are clear and know in advance the fundamental aspect of the organization they are aspiring to enter and can make an informed decision.
Knowing the Purpose of the company from the first day is key for the new incorporations to enter the business culture and act consistently.
Finally, I would like to reaffirm the idea that the Purpose is not something exclusive to the leaders of the organization, but that it is something that belongs to all levels of the organization, from lower level operators, middle managers, the team manager, and each person who works and collaborates with the company.
The Purpose is the DNA of the company and must be an integral part of each person who is already linked to the company, and is part of the recruitment process so that the new incorporations are clear of the Purpose of the company.
Having a Purpose as a company, as an organization, greatly contributes to having happier employees working for us, since they have a bigger incentive than the economic one.
Because only when an organization is really framed for a purpose, its employees really begin to appreciate what it means to them and their work since it is the company’s contribution for others, for the society, for a better future.
To finalize this article, let´s talk about the personal Purpose that each of us must have.
To introduce the subject, I will return to my personal history.
After more than 14 years dedicated to humanitarian aid, I began to realize that dedicating myself to the service of others was ceasing to be the purpose of my life and I wanted to do something else. I thought it was on the side of being a university professor and that is why I started a process of seeking a scholarship for a doctorate.
While in that process I received the opportunity to enter the Colombian diplomatic service which I accepted without being sure that it would make me happy. What I can say is that it did not make me unhappy and I could provide a vision and a way of doing things differently, with more human approach, making the Consular offices where I worked a welcome site for Colombians abroad.
I achieved this because I was clear about my personal Purpose and despite that I worked on something that I thought was out of my comfort zone, I did it with all the dedication and passion. I learned to love what I did, even if I didn’t do what I loved. And I did it with authenticity, being who I always have been and that’s why I also managed to do more things, since the fact of being authentic makes you more faithful to your personal Purpose, and that the people around you notice.
Now, things can be different from that attitude that I have described in the previous lines and that is why we must be aware that, even having a purpose as a clear, inspiring and consistent company, not all employees will be happy working for us.
For these people this is not enough, since they feel the need to have their personal Purpose that is fundamental for their well-being and development as a person, and ultimately for their happiness.
It is important to have a Purpose in our life because, similar to what happen in companies, the Purpose motivates us, inspires us and helps us to maintain coherence between what we do and what we say.
The difference, if we had to find any, is that the Purpose of each person is individual and is not written for others to adhere to it and follow it as if it were an Instagram post to which we like.
Once we have defined the Purpose and act with coherence, we will be more likely to be happy, in our lives, in our work, in our relationships.
That is why it is important that we work it, that we define it.
This purpose is inner, deep, inspiring. Some people find it after walking in life, having explored, while others have it very clear from a young age. There are also others who will never consider having a purpose and spend their days without it.
Today we see some examples of very young people who have opted for their personal Purpose, have transcended and become internationally recognized by being inspiring of a change through action.
I think of Greta Thumberg and her crusade for climate change, which she has embarked on since she was 13 years old and is already a world reference to the point of being named person of the year by Time magazine.
Another clear example is Boyan Slat, the CEO of the Ocean Clean Up project who, at his 19 years old, decided to leave his engineering studies in order to devote himself to his purpose of cleaning the oceans from the plastic we pour into them.
Today, with 25 years, he runs an organization with a very ambitious mission such as “eliminating 90% of floating ocean plastic, which requires a global initiative. With the help and support of individuals, corporations and governments around the world, our goal is to carry out the mission and work towards a future in which plastic no longer contaminates our oceans.”
At the same time, there are other people who have more time and effort to define and live with our purpose. We have to work it; it will not fall upon us like the holy spirit.
Similar to what we saw in companies, the ideal would be that one could have define its purpose in our life at an early age and live according to it. But as it is something that is not talked about frequently, something that is not present in our initial formative processes, we must acquire it later in our lives, when we will surely have already walked in a direction that is not necessarily ours.
The purpose increases our ability to achieve greater impact on the work we do and to connect with other people in different cultures and contexts.
As individuals, bringing more passion and purpose to work can mean affirming ourselves in the formulation and realization of our daily tasks, connecting what we do with what we believe and care about, rather than passively embracing the status quo.
Defining the purpose means thinking about making valuable contributions to others (individuals and organizations) or to society. It is a reflection of our core values, and we feel better at work when our everyday behaviors and decisions are aligned with those values.
Some points that help us to define our purpose.
• The Personal Purpose is about how you decide to live each day.
• It is personal and must integrate your core strengths, interests and ambitions
• It must be your great WHY that it works in all aspects of your life
• When other people hear it, everyone will say “It’s really you!”
• It is something bigger than yourself, your legacy
• You should see it as your compass, your North star or the Southern Cross, when facing a difficult decision or a dilemma
• It will be written in a special language of the path of your life, it speaks ONLY to you and every time you read it will motivate you.
We must bear in mind that, contrary to the Purpose of a company or organization, the Personal Purpose is not something static, something that is found once and for all. Personal Purpose can, and should be, continually rediscovered according to the circumstances and our own changes.
In my personal case, I have recently updated my purpose because I have taken a new turn in my life, I have decided to start a new journey and therefore I had to adjust it. It took me a while to put the right words to the updated version of my purpose, but I finally got to do it a few months ago, when I was immersed in a creative leadership course at the THNK creative leadership school in Amsterdam.
This purpose is what guides me and will guide me in the coming years, after having evolved from the previous one that was focused on serving the needy.
I have come to it walking the path since when I left the humanitarian aid world, listening again to this process of transformation that I felt at that time. I was able to refine it better after having seen several experiences within some universities and realized that what I want is to do something more unique, more dynamic and creative than what is taught today at the Universities.
And that is why it is consistent with what I am doing today that as strategic consultant focused on change, innovation and happiness.
In that order of ideas, I have been able to see how that Purpose fits perfectly within the mission I have set.
My mission is:
Inspire, accompany and train companies and individuals in processes of change and professional innovation for a transformation with positive impact.
My Personal Purpose is:
To use my happiness to unleash the true potential of people.
Having put words to my purpose has helped me dream of what I want to achieve and refine my action plan by discarding the things that distract me from the objective, those that deviate from my purpose.
And the result is being very positive, the ideas that were hovering have been aligned and now the road is clearer, everything flows.
Coherence is definitely being fundamental!!
Nothing truer than the words of the American writer and political activist Hellen Keller who said that “True happiness … is not achieved through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose”
I feel that having defined my Personal Purpose and living in a manner consistent with it is leading me to be happier since it aligns my actions, my passion and my contribution to society.
And you, have you started thinking about your Personal Purpose?