webinar recap – on purpose: finding meaning in work and life

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The first webinar of the year set the tone for 2017 by tackling big questions we all face as business professionals—and as people. Why do we do what we do, and how can we find meaning in it? To help us find the answers, we decided to interview an expert on the subject of purpose: author Dan Pontefract.

As Chief Envisioner at the Canadian telecommunications giant, TELUS, Dan is in charge of their Transformation Office, a future of work consulting group that helps organizations enhance their corporate cultures and collaboration practices. Which means purpose isn’t just something he studies, it’s something he’s been putting into practice for years.

In a change of roles, Whitney McCarty conducted the interview with Dan, leading with a question about Dan’s first experience of a connection (or lack thereof) to purpose—as a boy being cut unceremoniously from the Canadian national soccer team. It was a moment that set him on a lifelong pursuit of purpose. Oddly enough, his own turned out to be helping others find theirs.

“We are not here to see through each other. We are here to see each other through.”
-Dan Pontefract’s personal purpose

After a brief synopsis from Dan on his journey from a disaffected high school teacher to his current position at TELUS, Whitney jumped into the meat of The Purpose Effect, asking Dan to react to a striking piece of data from a recent global engagement survey which showed that more than 75% of American workers don’t find meaning in their jobs. Dan put the impetus squarely on people’s own shoulders, saying that while we may all go through our own moments without purpose, it’s within our power to take control and realize our purpose, whatever it may be.

Whitney then raised the subject of purpose mismatches between individuals and their roles within organizations. Dan acknowledged that many people fall into a “job mindset”, treating their jobs purely as paychecks, but that any lack of fulfillment should not be met with apathy, but with a renewed energy to seek out a position that more closely matches their personal purpose.

“One of the most compelling stories from your book is about sausage . . .”

Whitney’s segue may have seemed bizarre initially, but Dan’s laughter let everyone listening know that there was indeed more gravitas to the topic of sausage than first suspected. Dan dove into the story of Johnsonville Sausage’s test of, and commitment to, their organizational purpose. An overnight fire at one of their plants, while harming no one, had caused immeasurable damage to the facility—and Johnsonville was forced to shutter it completely. Hundreds of workers thought they were out of a job, but their company took this as an opportunity to show their purpose in action. For nearly a year, Johnsonville kept every single one of their team members on the payroll, asking them to instead use their time to give back to their community through service and volunteerism while continuing to further their education (with financial help from the company) while the plant was being rebuilt. This incredible example shows just how big of an impact organizational purpose can have on employee engagement and the community at large.

Whitney then raised a topic near and dear to O.C. Tanner, asking Dan about his opinion on the role of recognition when it comes to purpose. “If you don’t feel you are valuable to the organization,” he explained, “then you will not be fulfilling your personal purpose.” He went on to explain how recognition could be used by leaders to create a culture that allowed team members to feel free to pursue and define their own purpose, and connect it to that of the organization.

“Recognition’s not a check box, it’s a behavior, it’s a habit.”

Dan continued beyond recognition to the topic of organizational purpose, detailing the 5 “Good DEEDS” principles behind a successful organizational purpose that he lays out in The Purpose Effect:

Delight your customers

Engage your employees

Ethical practices

Deliver on your promises

Serve all stakeholders

He gave examples of companies getting this model right, Whole Foods, Salesforce, Unilever, and his own company, TELUS, and those that aren’t, like Volkswagen and Wells Fargo.

Whitney wrapped up the interview portion of the webinar with a question about finding the “sweet spot” between personal, role-based, and organizational purpose. As Dan put it, it starts with the individual, saying that finding and defining your own purpose is the most important part of finding the sweet spot. He then launched into an impassioned pitch for organizations to pursue a purpose that benefits not just their shareholders, but society at large, ending with this kernel of wisdom.

“Purpose does not happen by pixie dust. It’s a muscle you have to exercise.”

Questions from the listening audience included one about what to do if you’re feeling stuck in the pursuit of purpose (Dan’s advice was to write it down and refine it over time, no matter how hokey it may feel), and one about how leaders can help a team member who doesn’t feel connected to their purpose (Dan encouraged one-on-one coaching and development questions that focus on what people are interested or talented at, and who—who do you want to be?). The final question was short, but sweet. When asked, “Can your purpose change?”, Dan answered an emphatic yes, assuring everyone listening that not only can it change, it should. He admitted that his changed several times throughout his career, even though it always had a throughline of purpose. This encouraging thought was plenty to ponder for an audience now certainly contemplating their own personal purpose, and how to better connect it to that of their organization.

Excited to find your purpose in work and life? Listen to the interview with Dan Pontefract in its entirety in the full webinar recording.

By andrew scarcella
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