Podcast-Check: McKinsey Podcast: The search for purpose at work

McKinsey & Company is making a series of podcasts catering to business topics. This episode about individual as well as corporate purpose is brought to us by Ms. Matt Schrimper in conversation with partners of the non-profit wing at Mc Kinsey, USA: Ms. Naina Dhingra and Mr. Bill Schaninger. 

 Ms. Dhingra relates individual purpose to a north-pole star. Just like this pole star that guides you towards your destination, purpose gives you a sense of direction and an intention of going somewhere. Most of us can relate to purpose by a sense of feeling inspired and motivated to do something. According to a survey, 80% of the people are aware of the purpose, but only 60% can articulate it. This is the existential problem.

According to Mr. Schaninger, in terms of organizations, before this pandemic employees motivation was to work and get back home safe. In times of COVID-19 things changed dramatically for most of the people as working from home and remote working established themselves as new working models. By crashing the original boundaries between home and work, employees have started looking life as a whole and questioning the very essence of work life balance. This has led to considerations as to why one has to work. In most cases, an individual decides or reflects his/her purpose while the organization should aid him fulfilling this.

75% of employees define purpose through work expecting daily work to contribute to purpose. “Is work our life calling?”, is a question one often encounters. With this pandemic, the boundaries between work and home have vanished. Vacations and family time have taken a toll with extended work hours.

However, for millennials, the essence is to do work with conviction. Thus, the younger generation works in an environment which aligns with their individual purpose. Greed is good. The mindset in 1980s is quite different to that now. Millennials don’t force themselves to do something for the heck of it. The role of work is no more seen as just economical but is also about caring for societal changes.

Another interesting survey shows that parents place higher premium to purpose. Parents are twice likely to be inclined to purpose than youngsters. This is largely because time spent away from family and children makes them question why they are working so hard and contemplate the need to have a strong reason for making a sacrifice with family time. These thought processes mostly come from a thinking in a premium setup. There are people with obligations on the other side of the spectrum. While economic wellbeing cannot be overlooked, personal purpose is still prime. So now, this leads to the question on how an organization can support individuals realizing purpose.

This responsibility of an employer is very crucial and many organizations are growing to realize this. 7 out of 10 employees derive their purpose through work. Employees whose purpose align with their organization are 6.5 times more resilient, 4 times better with health and hence the company is 1.5 times more successful. This proves to be highly helpful for the organization in retaining the employee over a long time, hence reaping more benefits.

But the question still remains, how can a company help individuals in realizing purpose. Creating opportunities for employees at work and during work time to fulfill their purpose is a great strategy. On a broader perspective, an organization must look at integrating an individual purpose to that of the organization, and not work the other way around. Therefore individual purpose takes the driver seat. In this case, organizations must also be clear and transparent about organizational purpose and communicate it to all its employees.

The constant question most of us of face is how do we differentiate between passion and purpose. Ms. Dhingra answered this by saying, that the thought of purpose only arises when one is passionate about doing something. It does not matter if one terms it as purpose; doing something and thus feeling passionate about it, in itself is realizing purpose. So, as an organization, it becomes important to help employees to discover their passion and help them to work towards their purpose.

Does an organizational purpose matter? An employee often spends 60% of his time at work. It definitely becomes the place where one asks the deeper question, whether he wants it or not. In general, there are two sections of people: An employee, who does not realize his purpose and who works in a purpose driven organization. The second kind are people who have a string sense of purpose. When one’s personal ideas conflict with organization, then people feel rebellious and leave.

For some it´s just economic but for many it´s more personal and social. Employees who align their purpose with that of the organization are 5 times more likely to work more. It is thus important for organizations to voice their opinion on global impacts that the organization creates, in order for employees to feel connected to their purpose.

Both Mr. Schaninger and Ms. Dhingra shared experiences from their personal lives to enumerate that purpose usually begins with the feeling of freedom, and grows into caring, equality and compassion. Finally, this manifest in supporting societal changes. Thus, as one grows as an individual, there is evolution in realizing purpose.

As a closing note about people who have not realized purpose, Mr. Schaninger says, that one has to take time and travel with the organization to see if his/her purpose corresponds to that of the company. For an organization purpose, however, means running its business better. What you do, you have to do well. Laying out a clear path for its employees can help benefit the organization and in turn the employees; it is a win-win situation.

The best way to retrospect is to ask yourself 2 questions:
1) When did I feel most alive, and
2) When did I feel most drained?

Reflecting on these questions regularly can give you a better sense of purpose.

The biggest take away from this podcast was that one might not be able to articulate his/her purpose, but as individuals we all discover our passion and tend to follow it. In terms of employment, we must find jobs that align with our purpose. And for organizations, its time to apply the bottoms up approach and help employees on the journey finding their purpose.

You can listen to the McKinsey podcasts on Google podcasts under the following link:



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