Effective personal change begins with a vision, mission, and purpose that are personal, meaningful, and absolutely real. When these elements are intact, translating vision into reality is one of the most transformative of all human experiences. The journey you must take to get there elevates lives, both your own and those of the people around you, and orchestrates your growth along the way. Without a clearly defined personal mission, vision, and purpose, we operate in a state of relative aimlessness and barrenness. We begin to wither, and the resulting trance perpetuates the notion that a fulfilled vision is simply out of our reach. The added frenzy supports the idea that we don’t even have time to look at what we want out of our lives. It’s a self-reinforcing trap, and we lose the skills of self-inquiry that can lead to meaningful insights, personal change, and staying competitive.
We must understand that defining and connecting to all that is precious and meaningful to us raises our motivation to an entirely new level. Establishing purpose brings clarity to our day-to-day living.
Though the value of developing a strong organizational mission, vision, and purpose is drummed into business leaders throughout their professional lives, far less emphasis is placed on the need for personalized mission, vision, and purpose, if at all. Instead, much lip service is given to the idea of employees needing to get behind the mission, vision, and purpose of our organizations. Yet we are not as conditioned to ask our employees what they want out of life, what they wish to accomplish, and what is precious and meaningful to them. This isn’t done maliciously, but mindlessly. Despite the fact that business leaders such as Stephen Covey promoted personal vision, the behavior of most organizations demonstrates that a person’s personal vision, mission, and purpose doesn’t matter. And this is how we’ve lived for more than 300 years.
In the game of employee engagement, how far has this pursuit taken us? Nowhere. The minute we ask employees to adopt and support the company vision without even inquiring about their personal vision, we step back into the old miserable paradigm that implies a “do it or else” mandate. With decades of moving employees around like numbers, what kind of cynicism and contempt can you imagine comes up when we ask people to buy into a vision that in many cases is only about raising shareholder value?
Maya Angelou’s missive, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,”1 is relevant in your own organization. When we dismiss someone’s vision, they will likely give up on it. George Washington Carver was born into slavery but became our country’s most influential botanist and inventor. In 1941, Time magazine placed Mr. Carver on the cover and referred to him as “America’s Black Leonardo DaVinci.”2 Carver said, When there is no vision, there is no hope.”3 By ignoring the deepest seeds of meaning and purpose in our employees, we actually contribute to setting the stage for barrenness in their lives.
Great leaders recognize that stakeholders become engaged when we help them access what they most want out of their work, their lives, and their careers. Well, it is the same for our employees. And as we develop the skills of self-inquiry, the process becomes both lighter and enlightening.
Time and time again, we find that a large portion—if not the majority—of America’s talent at some point settled for what they got over what they wanted. We have become so busy that the purpose that would drive us forward, that would inspire us to be our very best, only sits quietly until the self-inquiry begins.
A fully engaged workforce can only be attained when we nourish dual vision. In a transparent environment, it is perfectly okay for individual vision to be defined, expressed, and fulfilled, even if it ultimately leads to someone’s departure. We are then able to support each other in pursuing the lives we want, lives that are as personalized and as clearly defined as a fingerprint. We are also better able to discuss our fears of falling out of step with change. These discussions will lead to solutions. When we develop this kind of clarity in working with one another, we become more willing to experience the discomfort associated with reinvention and change.
Organizational vision, mission, and purpose are critical to building a strong brand. However, strong engagement requires that we take this a step further by giving just as much energy to helping our employees realize their vision and encouraging them to fulfill their dreams. Starbucks has done a better job than most. The company’s mission is “[t]o inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”4 The company has taken interest in its employees’ personal mission, vision, and purpose by offering one of the most comprehensive educational assistance programs in the world. Not surprisingly, Starbucks has also become a home for some of our most engaged and talented workers. People can go there too, in part, fulfill their ambition to be educated. They even go so far as to provide counselors that can give academic guidance.
For most organizations, one of the first steps that can be taken towards building a vital and effective culture is to give equal importance to the mission, vision, and purpose of their employees. They can do
this by establishing environments that not only listen but also actively encourage colleagues to clearly articulate what they want to do—for example, “I want to become such a strong graphic artist that I can become a creative director, either here or someplace else.” The overall approach can be as simple as shifting from statements like “Get to work” to “What do you want to get out of working here?” The latter actually establishes an inner thought process that leads to good outcomes for both parties and gives the boss information that, when properly managed, can motivate and inspire more from the employee. I’ve watched participants in my programs define the lives they want to have and then commit to removing anything that is in their way. I’ve watched unhappy parents redefine their lives and become role models to their children. I’ve observed workers who were causing everyone around them to be miserable make amends and finally deal with the wounds of their past. And I’ve watched narcissistic executives become inclusive leaders. None of these transformations took place by adopting someone else’s vision. It happened when they looked within themselves and defined who they wanted to be in their relationships with work, life, and the world around them.
Developing work environments that included robust self-inquiry would have been completely out of place in the Industrial Revolution. Many leaders even today will respond with contempt to the idea of developing self-inquiry with all of their workers. They have no frame of reference or context for it. But times and contexts have changed dramatically. How will we motivate workers to change and engage if we are not developing environments with shared vision? In order to develop this capability, the more intelligent organizations will be the ones in which its leaders explore three questions with all employees:
- What is your vision?
- What is our vision?
- How can we weave the two together?
Perhaps it would be valuable to tell you where my self-inquiry began. I have sought personal and spiritual growth my entire adult life. Many of the programs and quests that I experienced were exciting and wonderful at the time. But the impact wore off because we were engaged in rituals and experiences that were based on someone else’s truth and methodology. For example, if someone’s idea of joy and excitement is camping, they may think everyone ought to love camping, right? But bring the topic up to me and I will head for the doors. Many of our most hallowed expectations have been based on someone’s idea that a certain philosophy and set of values would improve everyone’s life. But when one point of view is pushed on others, there’s bound to be contention between its values and that of the individual. Far-reaching and deep-seated questions, however, can lead us to our individual truth and our individual path.
I discovered the Socratic approach through Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott, MCC, the author of If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules: 10 Rules for Being Human and the founder of MMS Institute, a coach training organization founded in 1974. For more than four decades, Cherie and her sister Lynn have conducted Inner Negotiation Workshops that pose questions to participants. When I experienced their work, I realized that asking people the right questions and encouraging them to answer the questions is perhaps the single most effective way to produce sustainable change. This is because the answers are based on the individual’s personal truth. It is also the most respectful approach because it recognizes that we are the experts of our own lives. In Socratic work, every outcome is unique because everyone’s truth is highly individual.
Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from THE WORKPLACE ENGAGEMENT SOLUTION © 2017 David Harder. Published by Career Press, Wayne, NJ. All rights reserved[su_spacer]