ASK THE COACH: Work with a Purpose

Career coach Ann Daly

Career coach Ann Daly PhD answers your questions.

Q: I’m in a job that is fast-paced, very demanding, and for the most part fulfilling. The problem is, nothing changes. You could work 24 hours a day and never be really productive. You are constantly putting out fires. It seems that everyone is going in circles with no clear organizational goals. It’s been this way for two years, and I see no change for the future. How do you know when it’s time to move on? Sue T.

A: What you’re missing in your job is purpose. If your company were operating with a clear and present purpose, then you would be telling me how soul-satisfying your work is. You would be bragging on your participation in something bigger than yourself. You would be talking about how meaningful your work is. You wouldn’t be describing a hamster wheel and expressing the need to bail.

Of course you feel the need to bail!

In fact, Sue, you could serve as the poster girl for the 21st-century employee: there has to be a purpose to the work and organization.

Yours is a common problem these days, says Haley Rushing. “It’s a horrible state of business when people think they need to leave their passions at home.”

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Haley is Chief Purposologist at Austin’s famed marketing/advertising firm, GSD&M Idea City.

You read right. Chief Purposologist. She’s the only one in the world. And she’s the co-author (with Roy M. Spence, Jr.) of It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For.

Haley is passionate about her own work, and about her purpose: helping organizations fulfill their purpose. “I want my kids to live in a world where organizations are doing the right thing. The sustainability of the planet is determined by the decisions that businesses make. In some small way I hope I can help transform the consciousness of business leaders-to create value where everyone wins.”

Luckily, Haley found a company whose purpose aligned with her personal purpose before she nearly abandoned the marketing profession. GSD&M offered her the opportunity to use her insights into consumer motivation in a responsible, rather than exploitative, way.

“It’s hard to put kids and family on hold. If I weren’t doing something I believe in, I’d be miserable.” Employers, she says, need to “recognize that if they want people to show up for work enthusiastic and engaged, they need to give them something to be genuinely enthusiastic about-something they can believe in.”

The biggest lesson she’s learned?

“Choose your clients [or employer] wisely. You only have so much time and talent to give in this world. Don’t squander it working with people who aren’t as passionate and committed as you are. Look at every potential relationship as an opportunity for both parties to grow. Every one of my great clients has taught me as much as I’ve taught them. We get better together. So if something about a client [or employer] doesn’t feel right to you, listen to your instincts. There are too many amazing people and cool companies in the world to waste time working for those that don’t get it-and won’t ever get it.”

She could be speaking directly to you, Sue: “Listen to your instincts.” Sounds like you already know it’s time to move on. You present pretty strong evidence that your current workplace isn’t ever going to challenge you, develop you, or fulfill you. In the short term, you feel dissatisfied. In the long run, you’ll feel suffocated.

What to do? First, get clear about your own purpose, then find a compatible employer.

Haley offers this advice for women like you who are seeking a purpose-driven workplace:

“Ask! If you’re wondering whether or not a company has a purpose, ask them. There is a lot of power in the question: ‘What’s your fundamental purpose in the world?’ or ‘What difference are you trying to make?’ If their answer begins and ends with ‘make money, increase revenue, maximize profit for shareholders,’ that’s a good indication that the organization isn’t purpose-driven. On the other hand, if they come to life and begin to tell you about the values that shape their culture and the difference they’re trying to make, listen up. This may be your opportunity to take up residence working for the ‘good guys.’

“The good news is that while purpose-driven organizations may have been the exception in the past, there are more and more emerging on the scene every day. You can often spot them by the enthusiasm and engagement of their employees if you interact with them as a customer. Or they may be the retailers that still see a steady stream of customers, while their competitors are hanging up their ‘going out of business’ sign.”

2 Responses to ASK THE COACH: Work with a Purpose

  1. M March 6, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    Love this. It just saved me from walking out!

    • ann March 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      LOL, what will you do instead (of walking out) . . . ?

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