The power of purpose

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions
Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf once remarked, “I have seen competent leaders who stood in front of a platoon and all they saw was a platoon. But great leaders stand in front of a platoon and see it as 44 individuals, each of whom has aspirations, each of whom wants to live, each of whom wants to do good.”

Last month we introduced our employee engagement series with the article, “Creating an engaging workforce culture – it takes a team!”

I discussed the five cultural attributes that support a culture of engagement. They include:

  • Clear sense of purpose

  • People-focused managers

  • Active employee voice

  • Meaningful connectedness

  • Visible integrity

Next I want to focus on the concept of creating and articulating a clear sense of purpose in your organization. Having a sense of purpose is an engagement driver. When employees feel connected to the purpose of your organization they experience a feeling of caring about something bigger than themselves.

Purpose makes people feel significant. Their work feels meaningful and people feel inspired and engaged. Individual performance and personal fulfillment increase. These employees are more likely to stay and are motivated to contribute to the success of your organization. Your challenge as a leader is to unlock the power of purpose among your employees.

You may be familiar with the story of the three bricklayers who are busy at work when a passerby stops and asks each of them what they are doing. The first bricklayer says, “I'm laying brick.” The second bricklayer says, “I'm putting up a wall.” The third bricklayer says, “I'm building a cathedral in which the people in my community can worship!”

All three bricklayers were doing the exact same thing, yet they clearly were doing their work with very different mindsets. Which of these mindsets would you want your employees to embrace?

How to create a sense of purpose:

You can help create this sense of purpose by implementing the following action items:

  • Ensure your employees are clear about what your organization stands for, what it wants to achieve, and how people can contribute to the organization's success. Consider all of the communication avenues you can use to produce a clear line of sight to your organization's purpose and goals.

  • Provide information about how your organization is doing, improvements that have been made and accomplishments achieved. Use this information to teach employees about the value of collaboration, e.g., “Our patient satisfaction scores are the result of all of you working together to create a great experience for our patients!”

  • Connect the work that people are doing to the impact that they are having on the residents/patients they are caring for. Pass on positive feedback from patients and families to employees. Invite patients who have been discharged, and/or their families, to a staff meeting to share how the care they received during their stay at your facility helped them continue a successful recovery at home.

  • Even employees who don't provide direct patient care can be shown the impact they have. For example, housekeepers may see their job as mundane and repetitive. But the “why” behind their work is compelling. A meticulous and detailed room cleaning means fewer germs in patient rooms. A housekeeper's thoroughness means less secondary patient infections, which, in turn, keeps patients healthier and potentially prevents life-threatening complications. A housekeeper's interaction with a resident can be a day-brightener and can reduce the resident's feelings of loneliness.

And if those ideas weren't compelling enough, another benefit of feeling a sense of purpose… it actually impacts our brain! Research has shown that people who feel a sense of purpose have brains that function better. Apparently, this sense of intentionality and goal directedness slows the rate of cognitive decline and lowers rates of disability. This translates to better employee health!

Next month we will look at the second cultural attribute of effective employee engagement: People-focused managers.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.


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