I’m Here for the Mission

I have stood in airport security lines close to fifty times in the last twelve months. So a few weeks ago in Newark, I was startled when one of the TSA agents said something besides, “Cell phones go in the bins.” She said, “Welcome ladies and gentlemen. I want you to know that I’m here for the mission,” she paused and pointed to her colleague, “He is here for the mission.”  

I watched the planes hit and the towers fall on 9-11 from an intersection in lower Manhattan. I remember tearing up when I saw a poster in a TSA break area with the towers and the headline, “Not on Our Watch.” But I’ve never had a TSA agent remind all of us in line about their mission. In a job that requires a LOT of patience with the flying public, she was there to keep me safe and alive. She also wasn’t getting paid that day for her service.

How many of your employees would say, “I’m here for the mission”?  When you think about your own job, are you there for the mission?

It turns out that being there for the mission is very important. In a study of 195,000 people, Gallup Scientists found that the top reason that people are considering leaving their jobs (which happens to be 51% of all people) was that their work didn’t have meaning or purpose.  Recent WeSpire research found that companies with a strong mission and engagement strategy had employees that were 50% more likely to recommend the company as a place to work.

Some of you may be thinking, “I’m not exactly saving lives everyday.” Fortunately, some fascinating research has been done on jobs that seem pretty mundane, like being a janitor. Yale researcher Amy Wrzesniewski studied a group of janitors at a hospital and yes, found a group that didn’t like their job. However, she found another group who saw their role as something beyond the job description, and were much happier as a result. Some saw themselves as “craftspeople” and became highly knowledgeable about chemicals to help reduce irritation for patients. Some monitored which patients didn’t get visitors and tried to spend extra time with them. What these workers were doing, Wrzesniewski realized, was quietly creating the work that they wanted to do out of the work that they had been assigned–work they found meaningful and worthwhile.  So to find purpose and meaning at work, you can consider how to craft the job you have into the one you want.

As a leader of a team or organization, you also play a role. Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton (and WeSpire advisor), has done studies that show when employees know their work is having a meaningful, positive impact on others, they are happier and more productive. How do you help your team see the impact they are having? As a leader, frame your company mission in the context of the positive impact you have versus “being the market leader.” As a team leader, try sharing customer emails when they express delight with excellent service or a new product. Record a quick video or send an email to explain the positive impact someone had on you and share it with them, their team and their boss.

You can also encourage your team members to craft the job that gives them meaning. Ask what gives energy and drains energy. Encourage learning a desired skill. Think about moving responsibilities to add things that delight someone or take something away that’s a bad fit.

Most people want a job where they do meaningful work. What creates meaning varies from person to person. But if leaders frame their organization’s mission in terms of the positive impact they have and encourage employees to craft a role that also gives them purpose and meaning, then perhaps everyone would be willing to remind a group of grumpy strangers, “I’m here for the mission.”

Quote of the Week:  If you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.

John Lewis

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