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How to show up for your people so they show up for your business.

“Why are you taking this course about finding purpose in life?” is always the first question I ask my students at the beginning of the semester. Now put yourself in the role of the student. You’re taking my course because you’ve heard it’s “an easy A” (it’s not). You’re pre-med and in your mind is a min-max calculus formula – “How do I put in the minimum of effort to get the maximum grade?” Are you really going to raise your hand and tell me and the whole class that? Unlikely.

So I run an anonymous live poll: “Why are you taking this course?” Suddenly a bunch of students say, “Easy A” (it’s really not). But other students say, “Because I’m curious about the subject matter.” Still others, “Because I want to know what to do with my life.” In fact, there are lots of reasons students are taking the class. The anonymous poll gave them freedom to speak. The results gave me freedom to listen. Starting with the “Why” question, I’ve taking my first step toward understanding the clay I want to mold. 

I can now show up for them.

I’ve also found that this is an important question for managers to ask their employees: “Why do you work here?” In Kumanu’s book of business, we find that employees answering affirmatively to “My company helps me fulfill my personal purpose for working” are 3-times more likely to intend staying their job

We also found in our January national survey with the Harris Poll that full-time employees answering affirmatively to “My organization tries to understand my purpose for working” are 3-times more likely to be fully engaged in their work, 80% more likely to intend staying in their job, and 45% less likely to be burned out. This is after statistically adjusting for age, education, income, race, occupational role, and number of people reporting to the employee.

What are employees’ purposes for working? We find quite a few. Certainly money is one of them (like grades for my students), but there are many others. Career, personal growth, challenge, doing quality work, customers, being part of a team, even just having something to do are all important and prevalent reasons for working. 

At the end of the first lecture many of the students wait in line to introduce themselves. “Wow,” some say, “I’ve never been asked why I want to take a course. Thanks for that.” A few others wait at the end, some with tears in their eyes. “My dad just passed away six weeks ago and I’m hoping this course might help me get my head straight.” “I’ve been going through some mental health issues and feel like I’m in a prison I need to break out of.” “I just left the [university sports] team and it’s all I know how to do.”

My students – and your employees – have a variety of reasons for doing what they’re doing. And life circumstances that can shake their level of engagement, and shape their sense of purpose — and their purpose for working. Treat them as if they’re all there for the same thing and that they all respond to the same incentives — like robots — and they’ll respond like robots. Without the batteries. 

The “Why” question is the door opener to showing up for them. Show up for them and they’ll be more likely to show up for you.

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PurposeCast logo

Learn how small habits create a big life purpose with guest Dr. BJ Fogg, Author of Tiny Habits.

June 26 at 2 PM ET

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