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One Simple Way to Put “Purpose” into Your Finance Team

In no more than two sentences, I’d like you to sum up what it is that you do.

…Stuck?

Or, maybe not. Perhaps you have this one nailed, but I bet you had to think long and hard about at it at some point, not so long ago.

Now, imagine you were to ask one of your team to, in no more than two sentences, sum up what it is that they do.

Do you think they’d be able to do it?

You might shrug, but there is a really salient point behind this questioning, that many corporate and start-up businesses alike are realising and working out how to turn into an opportunity right now as you read this:

If you or your employee cannot answer what it is that you or they “do”, it is likely that you, or they, do not have purpose.

And as we all know, one of the major motivators for employees, especially Gen-Y employees, is having purpose or being able to extract meaning from work in order to feel fulfilled and engaged. There’s a myriad of management literature on exactly this subject, and it’s up for no debate that if we want to lead motivated and engaged teams, we must provide purpose to what it is that we do. If your employees can not answer what it is that they do, they probably cannot see how their work makes a difference. And this is why we can deduce that they won’t have purpose.

In “How an Accounting Firm Convinced Its Employees They Could Change the World” (HBR, October 2015), Bruce N. Pfau describes how KPMG addresses exactly this point. KPMG instilled purpose into the organisation, and their employees, by engineering a stronger emotional connection to their firm. They did this through executing comprehensive campaign, called “10,000 Stories”, as part of their Higher Purpose Initiative, that essentially encouraged all levels of employee to share their own stories –almost virally – about how their work in KPMG is making a difference.

Not only, according to Pfau, did this increase people’s pride in KPMG by 90%, but the scores on employee engagement surveys surpassed all previous records as well, resulting in the employer moving up 17 spots on FORTUNE magazine’s annual 100 Best Companies to work for.

And all through asking their employees, what it is that they do.

But it’s not only KPMG. I don’t know about you, but my social media feeds are filled with happy (and proud) employees showing pictures of themselves at corporate events with slogans encapsulating what they are known best for, or with clever, witty renditions of their job titles. And the point of all of this is not only to have a bit of craic…it’s leveraging off the point I make above, now in the positive:

If your employees can tell you what it is that they “do”, it is likely that they also have purpose.

So next time you start to think about how to increase your team’s motivation, or engagement, levels, stop to think first – do they know what it is that they do? Can they see how their work is making a difference? Only then, can you start the war on purpose.

Read more: Pfau, Bruce N., “How an Accounting Firm Convinced Its Employees They Could Change the World” HBR

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