Help Them Reach Their Purpose; Talkin' Ain’t Enough!

buy-in career development definite purpose demonstrate support for team members employee development employee engagement engagement goals growth individual purpose leading with a clear purpose leading with purpose organizational purpose purpose purpose driven employees purpose driven organization purpose driven workplace team engagement Jul 02, 2024
demonstrate support for team members

I’ll say it once more, just in case you’ve drifted off… Leading a team effectively is hard! And so is being a great team member, staying engaged and working toward the organization’s goals and purpose. Just like having a clear purpose helps fuel those of us who have accepted responsibility for leading, helping our team members work toward an equally clear purpose of their own can be the difference between them finding real work/life harmony and them burning out because they’re out of balance. Providing the support they truly need, rather than just lending a hand to make the immediate task easier, often boils down to something I’ve heard a lot of individuals in leadership roles, as well as entire organizations preach about doing but fall far short in the follow through. And by the way, I’m intentionally not referring to those individuals as leaders - regardless of what their job title is as they make claims that aren’t backed with action!

In many cases, the support our team members need more than any physical help we provide is in empowering them to push forward toward their own definite purpose. There will certainly be times where the growth they experience in the process will move them beyond their current role, but that often provides us with an opportunity to utilize their new skills in other roles as we work to achieve our organizational purpose with them. That authentic empowerment also shows them how much they’re valued, adding to their willingness to go above and beyond the normal call of duty. Here’s where I could easily reference how engaged employees give as much as 57% more discretionary effort, but I’m guessing you get the point!

The biggest challenge I’ve seen in doing this though has been how frequently that empowerment word is thrown around. Sometimes there’s little, if any, action backing it. And I’ve also experienced a few scenarios where the person in charge has taken an active role to prevent the team members reporting to them from being anything resembling empowered!

The last year or so I worked in manufacturing, the corporate global quality policy (which doubled as the mission statement) was this: “Delivering customer satisfaction with empowered employees using continuous improvement to get it right the first time, every time.” Cindy and I frequently share a keynote session called Building Buy-In Around a Clear Mission & Vision where I do all I can to explain how effective this could have been had said “empowered employees” been provided with a clear understanding of how the things they did tied back to any of it. I won’t hash that out again here, but I will share just how seldom you would have ever heard someone say they felt empowered in that environment. I can’t speak for every location that company had around the world, but the site I worked at operated on some extremely tight purse strings and was governed by detailed operating procedures to achieve highly scrutinized quality specifications. To say there was little room for individual discretion in much of what anyone did on any given day would be quite the understatement. With so many procedures in place to guide basically every action taken, where would you say empowerment came into the equation?

If I’m being brutally honest, I’m convinced that phrase was added to the quality policy as a catchy buzzword. That said, I don’t believe there was any intention of actually preventing team members from taking action on their own. Maintaining a high level of quality was critical to keep existing customers and attract new ones so there just wasn’t a lot of room for error. I’ve worked with other organizations where decisions truly could have been made at nearly any level of the hierarchy but were almost always thwarted if the grand-pooh-bah hadn’t anointed the individual, or at least blessed the idea in advance.

Several years ago, while working with three or four other folks from around the United States to support several hundred individuals around the world to roll out a very unique event, our small group was tasked with achieving some very specific goals. We had been given some very basic guidelines, which essentially said we had no budget to work with, but were told that whatever we came up with would be supported - as long as it didn’t cost anything. We were all volunteering our time and we had access to most of the technology we’d need so we came up with a detailed plan for exceeding the goals that had been set for us. Everything was going great, until the grand-pooh-bah looked at our plan and completely lost his shit because we thought he actually meant it when he said the details were up to us. This same guy who had previously defined torture as “being responsible for achieving results with no authority to do so” not only scrapped every bit of the plan we had put our time into, but he also mandated that anything we did moving forward would need his approval. So much for empowerment…

If we’re truly committed to helping our team members work toward their individual purpose while we’re working together to achieve our organization’s purpose, we’ll do well to help them however we can as they work to reach it. And talkin’ ain’t gonna be enough! We’d better back that talk with action. With that in mind, let’s consider three questions each team member will be asking of us as we work to empower them to reach their purpose - stay tuned!