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The Great Resignation is upon us, and purpose can help you resist its siren call

September 30, 2021, 9:00 PM UTC
"If you want to be truly purpose-driven, know that chasing your passion and leaning into your purpose can lead you down two entirely different roads," writes Ashley Grice.

The COVID-driven collision of evolving business norms and forced reflection has resulted in an awakening for business leaders. Most of us have never experienced so much change and disruption in our working routines, nor have we had so much time to step back and reevaluate—and certainly not all at once. Fashioning offices in the corners of our bedrooms and spending the entirety of our days on video conferences has opened our weary eyes to the duplicity of the notion that home life and work life could ever be balanced, let alone distinct. We’re now forced to accept that the way we work is an ever-shifting commixture, where home, job, and community bleed into one another like soft-edged watercolors.

This awakening has many people questioning their paths and palettes: If my life and work are one and the same, how do I find the most value in this united experience? If my expectations and plans can be so wholly upended, how can I make the most of my time, treasure, and talent in the moment? With fresh perspective, we search for a focal point in our lives—something that consistently draws us in, and from which everything else can flow out. When we struggle to find this, we feel lost and often with an unclear vision of an ideal future. Cue the cry for purpose.

Having articulated purpose—both personal and corporate—long before the term was mainstream, I welcome this widespread pivot inward to find an outward, meaningful path. For 25 years, BCG BrightHouse has helped shape this adjustment for companies, enabling them to create value across employee engagement, financial results, cultural uplift, and strategic goal setting. 

Organizations focused on a timeless purpose are ripe with opportunity to create lasting impact. When guided by purpose-based principles, employees from the top floor to the shop floor know how to make decisions within their sphere of influence that help companies meet their highest human goals. And employees thrive in purpose-rich environments because, after all, searching for meaning is quintessentially human—it satisfies our anthropological desire to belong. In short, purpose-driven organizations attract and amplify purpose-driven people.

Yet, the purpose grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the corporate fence. Our COVID-catalyzed quest for raison d’être doesn’t have to lead us away from where we are now. In fact, most often the best means to finding meaning in your work lie right in front of you—in your makeshift home office with its iridescent ring light—at the company you’ve been with for years. Why? Because human beings are most satisfied not only when they follow their passion, but when they make a lasting impact.

Your true purpose is articulated at the intersection of what you do well and the worldly need that your abilities tackle best. It must also be translated into specific actions to produce any value. Purpose must be authentic, aspirational and remain focused on the application of efforts toward making the world a better place. 

In the case where an employee’s purpose is in sync with the company’s, there are obvious benefits concerning overall engagement, opportunities aligned with interests and finding like-minded co-workers. Yet, in situations where personal purpose does not directly align with the company’s, there is still significant opportunity to drive impact.

Let’s say someone has a passion for the environment, but they work for an automotive company that lags on ESG target-setting. The answer may not be to quit and go back to school to study ecology. They may not even have a knack for science, and their strengths in business strategy – what likely propelled them in their career—would be underutilized. Further, they would be neglecting one more critical and unique strength: Who better to drive change at this automotive company than someone inside who knows how to get things done? In this case, following their passion alone might pull them away from an impactful future, but leaning into their personal purpose of environmental advocacy in business could move their company in a positive direction—even if their ambition and that of the company do not currently align.

If all purposeful people joined companies that were already purposefully perfect, there would be less substantive change left to make. We might help the “good guys” improve incrementally, but greater impact results from nudging those further away to take their first steps forward. The more purpose-driven people we have working to make the world a better place in every place, the more likely we are to change the overall fabric of society.

For the employee reconsidering a path, COVID may have awakened you from a meaningless routine and suggested that your highest and best use is indeed at another company, in another job. If that is the case, seize the day and move where there’s space for your strengths and opportunities to make change. But first consider that your most meaningful impact could be made where you currently sit because you know the culture, have the influence, and understand how to make things happen. Taking on a new job requires a significant investment of time and talent to learn how things work while establishing yourself. Staying at your current job takes the courage to push yourself in new directions, and to seek new ways to play into your unique strengths—advancing goals that matter to you at a company you know well. 

For the CEO who wants to retain purpose-driven people, first know that the purpose of an organization isn’t solely about you and your legacy. It’s also about the role your organization plays in the world, and every effort from investment, to strategy, to portfolio development to partnership should be in service of that role. This lays the groundwork for holistic impact across every value lever of the organization and creates a landscape for employees to lean in, applying their personal purposes toward the organization’s—unleashing the full potential of both. Purpose-driven culture is like a family heirloom—it is to be celebrated, maintained, and enjoyed with recognition that as a leader, you are safeguarding it for the next generation.

Leaving a position where you have the influence to affect real change may constitute a crime of passion. If you want to be truly purpose-driven, know that chasing your passion and leaning into your purpose can lead you down two entirely different roads. The former can be a red herring for happiness that may inadvertently remove you from a more meaningful path. The latter, if pursued with vigor, will always reveal an impactful way forward—a focal point from which you will find pride, harmony, and accomplishment in all its verdant watercolor glory.

Ashley Grice is CEO and managing director of BCG BrightHouse, a global creative consultancy helping organizations uncover their timeless purpose so they can grow their people, profits, and social impact. 

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