Recently I was overseas teaching a group of 45 executive MBA students about organizational development and change management. I was impressed by this diverse group’s collective insights related to a range of complex challenges faced in the organizations they lead.
We were exploring organizational health and how to create and sustain a knowledge sharing and innovation culture across disparate organizational types, with varying missions and purposes, providing different products and services. I asked these executives, “So from an organizational development perspective, why is a purpose-driven career and workplace important?”
Clayton Christensen’s Legacy
In response to this question, I gave the example of Harvard Business Professor Dr. Clayton Christensen, who is best known for developing the theory of “disruptive innovation.” We examined that theory and applied it to the EMBA students’ organizations and had a very fruitful dialogue. It was only upon returning to my hotel room that night that I learned Dr. Christensen had just passed away, after a devastating battle with cancer.
As I reflected on his legacy as a management thinker, I remembered his book How Will You Measure Your Life? While not as well known as his “disruptive innovation” theory, this book was a New York Times bestseller in its own right, and had a profound impact on me. In his 2012 TEDx Boston talk based in part on his book, he stated:
“When I have my interview with God at the end of my life, he’s not going to ask how high I went on anybody’s org chart or how much money I left behind in the bank. But rather he’s going to say, ‘Oh, Clay — I put you in that circumstance. Now, can we talk about the individual people who you helped become better people because you worked with them or they were members of your family or you just met them and they needed your help? And then, Clay, I stuck you in this situation. Let’s talk about the individual people whose lives you blessed because you used the talents I gave you to help them.’ And I realized that that’s the way God will measure my life — it’s the individual people whose lives I blessed.”
For Dr. Christensen, what mattered most — his foundational purpose and how he measured the impact of his life — was not his advanced degrees, his consulting work or his professional status as a top management thinker of the past half-century. Rather, it was his personal relationships and how he helped and blessed the lives of others.
Why Are We Here
Sally Blount and Paul Leinwand built on Dr. Christensen’s book in a recent Harvard Business Review article, entitled Why Are We Here? In it, they explored the purpose-driven organization and its relevance in the modern global context. They argued that if you want employees who are more engaged and productive, give them a purpose, one concretely tied to your customers and your strategy. Furthermore, they acknowledged that “Many people-not just Millennials-want to work for organizations whose missions and business philosophies resonate with them intellectually and emotionally.”
The Puzzle Of Motivation
In his TEDGlobal talk, “ The Puzzle of Motivation,” author and management thinker Dan Pink discussed the importance of three key factors in motivating individuals: autonomy, mastery and purpose. He argued, citing extensive cross-disciplinary research, that it is organizations with a clearly communicated transcendent purpose that are most capable of attracting and retaining top talent and producing the best products and services for consumers.
Person-Job Fit And Person-Organization Fit
In my own research, I have examined the constructs of person-job fit and person-organization fit. The greater the congruence between an individual’s personal values and purpose and that of their job and their employer, the better. This research demonstrates a clear connection of P-J Fit and P-O Fit to increased job performance, future job choices, lower turnover and intent to leave, as well as increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
The Importance Of Relationships And Social Impact Through Our Work
Additionally, I have studied how the extent to which one’s job is useful to society, the extent to which individuals have the opportunity to help others through their work and the extent to which individuals have the opportunity to develop meaningful workplace relationships directly impacts employee engagement, satisfaction and worker productively. Put simply, these factors matter a lot. Employees, especially millennial and Gen Z workers, want their work to have a broader societal impact and are factoring that in when choosing employers.
Organizations face diverse competitive challenges and are fighting to attract and retain the human capital that will increase innovation and productivity. Increasingly, employees are seeking enhanced meaning and purpose in their work and the opportunity to impact the broader society in positive ways. To accomplish this, leaders need to pay attention to P-J and P-O Fit when hiring and they need to look for opportunities to more tightly align organizational strategy with a purpose-driven organizational culture. As individuals, we have the opportunity to think about our personal foundational purpose, remembering “what matters most,” “why we are here,” and critically reflecting on how we want to measure our life. Then we can shape a purpose-driven career, choose a workplace that aligns with our values and purpose and help contribute to a purpose-driven workplace.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.