The importance of Purpose and a sense of ‘Mission’ during Pandemic times.

Since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, the world of work has been transformed in ways which at the beginning of 2020 were perceived as at least five or ten years down the line. Millions of office based workers have found themselves arranging office space in their homes, and during lock down sharing their household working space with children, and partners all competing for some quiet corner to engage with their thoughts and tasks, let alone gain access to sufficient Wi Fi bandwidth.

This has been a long haul of eight months, and as we face the autumn many employees will be concerned and stressed around their purpose, their direction and indeed may even be worried about the security of their jobs, and the resilience of the organisation to which they are attached.

Academics  have been reflecting on the impact of Covid 19 and the stress which is cascading across all areas of the work place and have generated the following advice for Employers and C suites as they move forward tentatively through these uncertain times.

  1. Help employees discover their own personal purpose. In this new home as office environment, free many need to ask some basic questions: “What is my job now?  What do I want out of my career? Is my career on track? What is happening to the organisation – is it safe?” The answers could well be different from the last time you all checked in with one another.
  2. It’s important that someone is checking in with your employees to feel in touch and connected/reconnected with their central purpose. Freely discuss with employees whether or how any of the basic elements of their work have changed or are causing challenge. Get them to prioritize what they are about and the tasks which they are undertaking. Position yourself as a resource for what they require to keep inspired and deliver on the request which the organisation AND the government in response to the pandemic is making at this time.
  3. Clarifying conversations enable a revitalisation of energy to flow into your employees work. Personalised relationship to the needs emerging from their work, which is clearly connected by your participation, to the wider purpose of the organisation, creating a context for the employee to personalise their work’s purpose in relation to the wider C suite concerns, helps employees to recraft their work, and to derive fresh purpose and pleasure from their daily routine, which has been so substantially ‘up-ended’.   Conversation around what abilities and talents they would like to deploy in these changed circumstance, can assist in reframing what for many is a negative and disturbing time into something more positives.  This period of disturbance can be ‘reframed’ into an opportunity to bring into the team fresh talents and skills which more deeply embed them into the vision and effective delivery of the organisation in the months ahead and the years following this current business as abnormal during the acute phase of the pandemic.
  4. What would your people like to learn?  Asking questions which plays to people’s strengths – releasing their unique interests, personalities and perspectives to flourish and add value to your organisation is a powerful unleashing of energy and value into your business.  Job Crafting, developing this dance between the employers immediate request and envisaging of the work to be undertaken, and releasing the abilities which are embedded (frequently latent and underemployed in the 9 – 5 work cycle) in the employee, is key to unlocking motivation, and critical also to building trust and commitment to the wider goals of the company.

In research undertaken at the State University of New York, Antonio Freitas  and his colleagues explored a strategy of active enquiry with employees, in questioning employees in some detail about their job tasks and then asking, “Why does it matter?”, not just once, but four times after each response.  They came away with the conclusion that this simple act of enquiry, and persistence in seeking to understand the WHY of the action, enabled the employee to connect their daily activities to a higher-level goal. The higher purpose of their activities.

Lessons from the moon shot.  Wharton Professor, Andrew Carton found in his research of the  the years when NASA was responding to the extraordinary challenge set before them by John F Kennedy’s aspirational speech in 1961 to land a man on the moon, similar steps, asking employees to see a stronger connection between their routine work  “I’m building electrical circuits” or “I’m mopping floors” and the desired end result  “I’m putting a man (sic) on the moon”  lifted NASA’s to deliver Neil Armstrong’s boots on the moon in 1969, despite overwhelming difficulties, political challenge, and multiple failures en route.

Carton says that there is a direct relationship between personal motivation,  resilience in the face of repetitive or challenging work,  and being invited to reflect why we’re performing a particular task or set of tasks.  The more we can harness the connection with the wider purpose of what a team or enterprise is engaged in, and connect this very directly to an individual employee’s experience and cognition, then the more our teams and enterprises will flourish.  The art of direct questioning, and active listening to help create the pathways of connection for out teams and employees is critical to deliver this desired result. This can be the benefit of coaching interventions to assist organisation’s currently struggling with their businesses, experiencing not only  severe financial stress during these Covid times, but also a loss of direction and purpose.

If the current pandemic assists us with reconnecting our teams to the purpose of their group, the wider goals of the organisation,  and the significance of each participating individual’s efforts, then it will have delivered an important lesson for our enterprises going forward, into years ahead when its sharpest health and relocation impacts have diminished, and other challenges and opportunities for committed, rewarding work emerge to be addressed.

For a conversation about finding purpose in your own journey, or facilitating the motivational sweet spot of those currently in beleaguered or despondent teams do be in touch to see how we might be able to assist break through, and relocate the passion and connection which has been derailed by the challenges of these current times.

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