What’s your personal purpose at work?

Avoid hard, numerical targets, which tend to evoke competitive emotions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 October, 2015, 10:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 October, 2015, 10:00am

You are probably reading this while sipping your coffee on a Saturday morning and probably don’t want to think deep thoughts on the weekend. But when it comes to running your business, perhaps you should.

One question that I regularly come back to is “what is my purpose at work?” For most of us, this is not an easy question to answer and it can provoke serious existential thoughts: Why do I work? What difference am I really trying to make with my business? However, if you can resolve this simple but profound question about your purpose at work, you’re more likely to do things that you’re passionate about, enjoy your work and as a result deliver a transformational outcome.

Those of us that work for large companies usually have a ready-made corporate mission statement. But how meaningful is this to you as an individual? Does it help you get out of bed in the morning and imbue you with a sense of personal pride? Does it help you navigate through things when work gets tough? In most cases, I expect the answer is no. This is why defining your own personal purpose statement is such a worthwhile investment.

A statement that inspires a junior analyst is unlikely to still be relevant to a managing director

Writing a personal purpose statement is not easy. The best advice I’ve received – and will share with you – is to keep the statement simple and clear. One or two sentences at most should suffice. Then think through four questions: What are you passionate about? How are you going to apply this passion? What outcomes do you want to achieve? How will these outcomes impact the world we live in?

William Arruda, author of Ditch, Dare, Do: 3D Personal Branding for Executives has written extensively on this subject. I particularly like one of his examples of a personal purpose statement that could apply to a medical research assistant: “I use my passion and expertise in technology to inspire researchers to create drugs to cure rare diseases.” This simple statement projects enthusiasm, energy and clearly articulates how the individual’s day-to-day work makes a positive impact to our society.

I think it’s important to avoid numerical targets in your purpose statement. In the workplace, we often hear phrases such as “we want to be No 1” or “this year, we will deliver double digit growth”. These hard, numerical targets are useful to measure progress, but they tend to evoke competitive emotions. Instead, try to identify a more powerful, collaborative goal that will resonate with a broader section of your colleagues, family and friends.

Once you have created your personal purpose statement, remember to update it regularly. A statement that inspires a junior analyst is unlikely to still be relevant to a managing director.

Your personal purpose statement can now be your North Star. Use it to keep you focused on achieving your strategic goals. Also, use it to help you find clarity. When you’re faced with a complex set of choices, consider which choice is most aligned to your personal purpose.

As you continue to commit to your personal purpose statement, it will become embedded as part of your everyday thought process. As a result, your mindset will naturally elevate away from completing mundane transactional activities to focusing on achieving your strategic goals.

Commit to your personal purpose and outstanding results will follow.

Ravi Chhabra leads Accenture’s financial services business in Hong Kong, providing strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations services