Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, was the main character in a series of books, movies, and TV shows in the 1950s. In one memorable episode, Tom has been saved from captivity. He looks directly into the camera and says, “I’m going to rescue my friends and save the earth!” Then, he rushes off-camera to do his good deeds.
Good for you, Tom. I think Tom would feel right at home talking about purpose in business these days. Too many people think that a business purpose must be something cosmic and earth-saving.
Must you do something earth-saving to get purpose for your team members? I think not. Your purpose can help someone in the next room.
What People Want at Work
People do not, for the most part, want to rescue their friends and save the earth. They want to do something more mundane.
Most people want to do important and interesting work with people they like. Where’s the purpose in that? It’s hiding in the word “important.”
What Is Purpose Anyway?
Jane (not her real name) works in a water heater plant. Her job is to make the heating element for the water heater and pass it on to the people putting the water heater together. Jane likes the people she works with. She thinks what she does is important, and she has a purpose with not a whiff of earth-saving.
Jane says she wants to do a good job of making the heating element so it will be reliable and, “People will have hot water all the time.” She also wants her heating element to fit into the new water heater without needing rework.
Your purpose is the result of what you do. It’s how what you do affects the lives of someone else. Jane makes the heating element for a water heater, and the people who buy it get the benefit of reliable hot water. If she does her job right, the person who assembles the water heater won’t have to send it back or adjust it. If Jane does her job well, there won’t be any delays.
What’s Your Team’s Purpose?
If you want to figure out your team’s purpose, start with who you serve. Who uses what you make?
Now, consider those people. What difference does what your team does make in their life? You might have two purposes, like Jane. You might have one.
Connecting People to Purpose
If you’re the team leader, you don’t have to do all the thinking on this yourself. Get the team involved in describing who they serve and what they do. It will help them understand their purpose, and their insights will help you understand the purpose.
There are other things you can do to connect the people to their purpose. Team members can visit some customers and see the result of their labor. Those might be internal customers.
Bring customers in to talk about what the team does that helps them. It’s another way for the team to find out exactly what makes the biggest difference and how they can serve the customers better.
Let technology help. You can have customers telling their story through a virtual chat. You can use video to document the difference your team’s work makes and then share it with them.
If you and your team have an earth-saving purpose, great. If not, you’ll find your purpose in the difference you make in people’s lives.