Connecting Individual And Organizational Purpose: Perspectives From Daniel Pink
Article Published by: forbes.com
Do you ever feel that the lofty, big-picture purpose articulated by your organization is not resonating with you? If yes, fear not. You are not alone.
We all have to encounter a barrier around connecting individual and organizational purpose. Organizational purpose is broad and may not connect immediately with the work you do every day. Your deeper individual purpose may also be too broad to connect to the context of daily work.
So you have your organizational purpose in one corner and your personal purpose in another corner. You need a bridge connecting these two. Best-selling author Daniel Pink has some encouragement on how to create this link.
One of the best books I have ever read about motivation is Daniel’s book Drive. He delves into the research that highlights the three elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. That book was really pivotal in enabling me to see purpose as a critical lever for leaders driving change.
Since reading this book several years ago, I have been fortunate to meet and talk to Daniel in person on several occasions. Most recently, he was a keynote speaker at one of our events in South Africa earlier this year. I was keen to delve more into his perspectives on purpose and unpack further some of the points he made in his book and keynote address. I began asking Daniel if his thinking on purpose had evolved since writing Drive in 2011. He explained that it did and that in his view, individual purpose is really two distinct concepts: Capital P purpose and small p purpose.
Making purpose tangible
“Capital P is purpose in the way we traditionally think about it,” he explained. “For example, I work for a pharmaceutical company because I want to save lives. The evidence shows that this is a powerful performance enhancer, but it may not be the only one. And it’s very difficult to access every day. In the context of many organizations, it’s sometimes a stretch to believe you’re making a huge difference in the world. Small p purpose is something simpler. It answers: How am I making a contribution? So if I’m in commercial adhesives or chemicals, my individual purpose might be to help my colleagues get a product out the door. I’m going to help make a contribution internally. I might not have fed the hungry; I just helped out a teammate.”
Kevin Cox, Chief Human Resources Officer at American Express, made a similar point in my Forbes interview with him. The organization provides the big picture purpose. But then the employees need to create a personal purpose that is aligned to the organization yet correlates to their particular context.
“We are so seduced by capital P purpose,” said Daniel. “When I talk to groups about lower-case ‘p’ purpose, they heave a sigh of relief because all of a sudden, it is something they can access.”
Daniel makes the point, and I agree wholeheartedly, that you need both.
“They are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “To talk about one without the other is actually an impoverished conversation.”
I actually thought it would make sense to provide you a very personal example. At Duke Corporate Education, our organizational purpose is about preparing leaders for what’s next. My capital P purpose is unlocking wisdom. This capital P purpose has seldom changed throughout my career, even as my roles have changed. My lower-case p purpose now as CEO of Duke Corporate Education is to build a sustainable client-driven leadership institution. This relates directly to my current role. In previous jobs, my lower-case p purpose was different.
For Daniel, his individual purpose emerged through trial and error.
“My capital P is about helping people understand their world a little more clearly and live their lives more fully,” he said. “People face a welter of facts, experiences and information – but they struggle finding a framework through which to understand it. My lower-case p purpose, which is about being a writer, revolves around learning something new and producing good, interesting work. It’s more ‘me’ focused. It’s about day-to-day progress.”
Discover your small p purpose
So maybe you are feeling like the lofty, aspirational purpose of the organization you work with is just not impacting you at the contributor level. Tackle this challenge and find more meaning in your work by coming up with a small p purpose that feels more accurate and tangible. As a result of this, it also can be more inspirational.
Daniel advises that purpose is often discovered and excavated, rather than crafted, created or confected.
To come up with small p purpose, here are some questions for you to consider:
1. What am I passionate about and what do I care about?
What am I skilled at?
2. How do I serve the business in what I am doing every day?
3. How does that fit with my deeper enduring sense of purpose?
Organizational purpose demands that you link work to a sense of shared meaning. But it is difficult to do this if purpose is too abstract. Answer the above questions to avoid this scenario. It is a very liberating process that will help you be more engaged and connected to your work.
About Scott Livengood
Scott Livengood is the owner and CEO of Dewey’s Bakery, Inc., a commercial wholesale bakery with a respected national brand of ultra premium cookies and crackers.
Previously, Scott worked at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts for 27 years, starting as a trainee in 1977. He was appointed President of the company in 1992, then CEO and Chairman of the Board.
Scott has served on numerous boards including the Carter Center, the Calloway School of Business and the Babcock School of Management, Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.
He started a new business, StoryWork International, in 2016 with Richard Stone. The signature achievement to date is LivingStories, a story-based program for improved patient experiences and outcomes in partnership with Novant Health.