The presence of purpose – Part 1


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Photo 159230744 | Job Interview © motortion |

I routinely ask groups of managers, by a show of hands, how many would consider themselves to be a purpose-driven leader at work. I see a lot of hands.

Next, I ask how many would consider themselves to a values-driven leader at work. Sensing a trap, audience members are more cautious now and look around the room at their peers as they tentatively raise their hands—just not quite as high as they did for the first question.

Their suspicion is well-founded because my next set of questions requires them to articulate the organization’s mission, vision, or purpose statement and core values. As you might have guessed, most managers cannot answer these questions.

So, the elephant in the room after this sequence of questions is obvious: How is it possible to be a purpose- or values-driven leader if you can’t recall the higher purpose of the organization or its core values that support and inform employees’ actions, behaviors, and decision-making?

The answer is simple: You can’t.

Sure, you might be a purpose-driven person who’s motivated by a deep-seated personal ambition, but this may have nothing to do with the higher purpose of the organization or the unique purpose of your job role. And you may hold yourself accountable to a code of personal values such as dependability, generosity, and flexibility, but these may not relate to the core values of the organization.

I have studied what separates organizations with a high concentration of purpose- and values-driven leadership from rudderless laggards that trumpet a performative guiding statement and an imitative set of core values that almost no one in the company can articulate—even at the management level.

Simply put, purpose-driven leaders embrace the higher purpose of the organization as its reason for being, providing guidance toward its aspirational North Star. And values-driven leaders are fluent in the organization’s core values, with an understanding of how they are interpreted and applied in employees’ real world of work.

Leaders who are genuinely purpose- and value-driven model, foster, and reward what I call job essence. Job essence (JE) is the reflection, through actions, behaviors, and decision-making, of organizational and job purpose—the single highest priority of one’s job role.

Most supervisors, managers, and leaders, however, myopically model, foster, and reward job functions. Job functions (JFs) are the duties, tasks, and processes executed by an employee in a particular job role.

The reason that most managers focus on JFs is because that’s how they were trained by the management level above them. When meetings, memos, reports, KPIs, and questions are centered on JFs, then it makes sense that they are the priority. When managers’ awareness of JE is limited to their onboarding experience when a human resources representative reviewed the corporate mission statement and core values in the Employee Handbook, then it’s natural that their attention will be set on JFs.

That said, a focus on JFs can be positive. Management wants to develop a competent staff, pursue operational excellence, and oversee a well-run department or business unit. It’s when there is a lack of awareness about JE, that the potential of managers, employees, and the business itself is limited. So, it’s not zero-sum, JE or JFs. To realize one’s potential and to optimize business results, mangers must be attuned to both dimensions.

Whenever I conduct an audit of hiring, onboarding, training, job design, or performance management processes, it uncovers a dramatic imbalance between JFs and JE that is weighted heavily toward JFs.

For instance, my latest audit of job descriptions and hiring questions for customer-facing roles in the banking, retail, and hospitality industries revealed that 93 percent of interview questions and 98 percent of job description criteria pertained to JFs, leaving only 7 percent of interview questions and 2 percent of job description criteria related to JE. This is the definition of imbalance.

For instance, here is a set of typical interview questions from the audit:

  1. Can you discuss your knowledge of food safety and sanitation practices?
  2. Are you comfortable using spreadsheets to access data?
  3. How do you handle stubborn stains on carpets, upholstery, or other surfaces?

And here is a set of common job description criteria from the audit:

  1. Collect payment and make change for guests.
  2. Follow security and safety standards at all times.
  3. Know floor plan including table numbers and servers’ sections.

These are fine questions to ask during a job interview and appropriate criteria to include in a job description but when there are limited references to JE, applicants are conditioned early on to focus on JFs. This can result in experiences described by customers as “indifferent” and “transactional,” and work environments described by employees as “boring” and “monotonous.”

Both instruments could benefit by adding questions and criteria that relates to JE, as in the examples below.

Sample interview questions:

  • “One of our core values is integrity. Tell me about a time in your previous job role when you were conscious about acting with integrity. What was the situation and how did you respond?”
  • “Our mission is to deliver distinctive experiences for our guests. Give an example of distinctive service that you experienced as a customer. What made it stand out?”
  • “Our purpose is to create happiness. Describe a time when, because of your efforts, a customer expressed happiness.”

Sample job description criteria:

  • We value continuous improvement. To that end, we expect each team member to identify and share ways to improve the employee and customer experience.
  • We value going above and beyond in the service of our customers. To that end, we expect each team member to take the initiative to exceed customers’ expectations whenever possible.
  • We value relationships. To that end, as appropriate depending on guests’ demeanor and work demands, build rapport with guests by asking questions, offering assistance, and making suggestions.

Too often, employees are aloof from corporate ideals because they don’t experience them on the job. By peppering work processes with questions, criteria, steps, actions, and survey items linked to purpose and core values, leadership is sending the message that JE, like JFs, is an important, credible, and relevant part of employees’ real world of work.

In Part 2 of this series, I will share a tool managers can use to assess the percentage of JE, relative to JFs, that is reflected across 14 common processes. This will produce a Purpose Quotient™ metric—a directionally accurate indicator of the presence of organizational and job purpose in the work environment.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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