People and purpose; why employee engagement is key to change success

People need a purpose; if you want to motivate your team you need to engage them in a shared vision that connects you, your practice and them – your staff. Philip Cox-Hynd, a change implementation specialist and author of Mindfulness and the Art of Change by Choice looks at why employee engagement is key to change success

There are a lot of terms used in ‘management speak’ that are in danger of losing their meaning in normal, everyday conversation. The words, ‘mission statement’, ‘vision’, ‘strategy’ and ‘purpose’ are all such examples that have been bandied around over recent years. None of these terms are intrinsically bad; indeed, when used well, they can be useful as descriptors for ‘what the company is about’, ‘what that may look like over a particular timescale’ (vision) and defining some kind of route to achieve this outcome (strategy).

The ‘what is’ and ‘what for’

The first concept of defining what a company is about, or what is it for, which tends to fall into the terms ‘mission’ or ‘purpose’, can, in many, ways be the most problematic. Most people have personal goals – be it to get fit enough to run a 10k race in a particular time or to move from a three or four bedroom house by the end of the year – and most, equally, understand ‘time bound’ and ‘specific’ goals or targets within the business setting.

Plotting a route to achieve such goals might or might not be termed ‘strategy’, (when training for a couple of running races in the past I have had friends say, ‘So, what is your ‘strategy’ for training?’. A ‘strategy’ to achieve an outcome usually isn’t that hard to grasp as a concept.

However, I have rarely had a conversation with friends or at work where the following question is posed, ‘So, what is your purpose, then?’ It’s a bit like discussing value-sets over a pint of beer and a bag of crisps; it tends not to happen. Even though what you are trying to achieve in life may be freely discussed as your next ‘vision’ or set of ‘goals’, what it is all for rarely comes up. It’s not that purpose isn’t important, it is just that we rarely have time to stop, think and reflect about such lofty questions.

Long-term satisfaction

Increasingly, within business, the purpose question is being asked and, ‘To make profit or benefit our shareholders’ isn’t enough of an answer any more. Many employee opinion surveys over recent years have shown that giving people large salary increases, by itself, is rarely enough to provide long term satisfaction. Instead, creating a sense of making a difference at work – some kind of underlying and ongoing sense of purpose in what people do for a living, as well as what the company strives to be – is now an integral part of what keeps people engaged at work.

What does your ‘purpose statement’ say?

So, what should a good ‘purpose statement’ convey? It should be inspirational, ongoing, something real that individuals can recognise as being honest within their organisation and never ending; an ongoing litmus test against which all timed and measurable visions and goals can be set.

One of the best visions ever coined was spoken by JFK in 1962 when he declared the vision of, ‘…sending a man to the moon and returning him safely by the end of the decade’; a classic example of a timed and measurable vision, i.e. you knew by December 31 whether the vision-goal had been achieved or not.

However, once achieved, they kept sending men to the moon and so NASA made the classic mistake of not explicitly replacing an achieved vision with the next goal. It was only when you look at NASA’s ongoing purpose, which was as true at NASA’s inception as it is today, did the parameters for the subsequent vision-goals become clear. NASA’s purpose statement was, and still is, ‘To explore the universe for the benefit of mankind’. This ticks the boxes of being on-going and non-specific in terms of what it is achieving, yet is (still) an inspirational litmus test.

When Ronald Reagan wanted to use NASA technology to create his anti-ballistic missile programme, dubbed the Star Wars project, some members of Congress objected as they felt it was a corruption of NASA’s purpose statement as it could be against the benefit of mankind.

Bringing this example right down to earth, I recently worked with a small chain of independent estate agents.

They had clear vision goals of ‘To expand by so many estate agent shops within a fixed time line’ as well as other specific goal criteria. However, the owner knew that these hard goals, by themselves, weren’t particularly inspirational to either his staff or his customer base.

After much discussion, and me asking repeatedly, ‘Come on, what makes you different?’, he eventually landed on this phrase which was blurted out, ‘Well, the truth is, we’re not about selling houses we’re about fulfilling dreams!’ When he said this phrase we both knew he had captured his purpose, one that had always been true for him but, until that point, had never quite been articulated. When he shared this with his staff I will never forget the warm glow on their faces as they realised they had a guiding light which was both true as well as inspirational and engaging.

So, what’s your school’s purpose? What’s your school’s vision? And, does it motivate your key stakeholders – students, staff and your local community?



Philip Cox-Hynd is a change implementation specialist and

author of Mindfulness and the Art of Change by Choice



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