The concept of work has undergone a fundamental shift.
People no longer want to go to their jobs every week, put in exactly 40 hours, and repeat that pattern for 20 or 30 years. Instead, everyone is searching for purpose.
They’re searching for self-actualization through their marriage, work, life.
So, as a leader, you can’t just send out memos with a list of goals and expect everyone to band together and commit to them.
You have to harness the desire for purpose and commitment in a way that brings people together around your company goals.
That sort of commitment — passion, excitement, dedication — only comes from people who are truly engaged with their work. It comes from a community that sees a future where everyone benefits from what’s being done. It comes from people who feel their job has a meaning and a purpose beyond 5 o’clock in the evening.
And you’re responsible for building that community.
Here’s how to do it:
Purpose has to be discovered and nurtured – you can’t implement it.
You can’t announce purpose at an all-company meeting or put up a billboard.
The desire to work together and commit to goals often develops from a single spark.
In that sense, creating a sense of purpose is very similar to starting a bonfire. All it takes is a single match. The challenge is that you can’t just decide to strike a match. But you can architect the right conditions and environment for when the spark happens.
At the most basic level, a group that comes together has to like each other. They have to respect each other’s professional skills and knowledge, and they may even bring shared values to their work environment.
As the CEO of a biotech company, Morphic Therapeutic, I find those shared values revolve around wanting to do good science. The act of discovery is core to the human condition. People want to be in a place with integrity and a commitment to the science we’re working on.
When shared values are in place, the conditions are right for a sense of purpose to develop.
People begin to bond. They have conversations about shared life experiences, mutual interests, and long-term goals. Eventually, something clicks and the spark begins to create an entity far greater than a company — a community.
The community and purpose draw people in.
Finding a common purpose causes people to come together within an organization.
And once everyone begins to see their futures as intrinsically linked, work stops being a zero sum game. People cease to see themselves as an individual who can “win” or “lose” depending on the situation. They begin to view success as something that is achieved by the entire group.
In many situations, it’s natural to feel as though you’ve lost when someone else wins an award or achieves a major goal. And there are plenty of companies out there where the culture never progresses past that mentality.
But when a company has evolved to the point where people really feel as though they’re part of a group working toward a common set of goals, everything changes.
At this point, if a team member does something great, people recognize it as an achievement that helps move everyone forward. While you’re always pivoting between your individual needs and those of the group in a community, the fundamental aspect of this collective mentality is that you don’t feel you lost because someone else gained.
No one’s keeping score anymore. If a colleague has a victory, it was just their turn. Yours will come soon enough.
Purpose has to be actively pursued
You can’t implement collective purpose in a company by decree. But you can’t just wait around and hope for it to occur, either.
That’s why building a community is about getting to know people on a personal level, understanding their challenges, and having conversations about values and goals.
It’s about creating the conditions for the collective mission to emerge.
Something I’ve noticed is that people almost universally seem scared of networking and getting to know other people. So at Morphic Therapeutic, I emphasize helping people network so they can create an external community for their own career paths. I do that first and foremost because I want them to have successful careers. But I’m also hoping some of that networking ability translates into how they think about community within the company as well.
Because if people spend time building their own personal communities, see the value, and live their lives outside of work with a sense of purpose, that’s going to translate to their work lives.
You have to understand others and amplify what they feel capable of. Be a force multiplier.
You can’t simply give speeches or implement your way to a purpose-driven community within your company, but you can give people the tools and support for it to emerge on its own.