Motivating Mission-Driven Teams With Play, Purpose & Potential

Employees want meaningful, engaging work, and most aren’t finding it in today’s workforce. According to a recent Gallup poll, just 30% of Americans are engaged in their work.

That means a whopping 70% of America’s workforce is feeling “meh” about their jobs, working solely for a paycheck. When companies make an effort to externally motivate employees, they decrease their internal motivation, which is much more important to success and engagement.

Motivate employees by allowing their intrinsic motivation to flourish. Give employees what matters most: play, purpose, and potential.

As Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor note in their treatise on motivation, Primed to Perform, play, purpose, and potential are what employees need to feel intrinsically motivated, and therefore, engaged.

My favorite documentary is Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Sushi chef Jiro Ono is revered as one of the world’s best. He’s not motivated by fame or fortune, but play, purpose and potential:

  • PLAY. When the work itself is your reward. The best work doesn’t really feel like work at all. For Chef Ono, his work is play. There’s beauty in his craft. He is meticulous and exacting, but derives real fulfillment from the process itself.
  • PURPOSE. When the result of the work is your reward. Ono finds beauty in sharing his craft. When a customer tries (and enjoys) his sushi, he’s satisfied. Ono enjoys sharing the product of his work.
  • POTENTIAL. When an indirect result of your work aligns with your values or beliefs. Aside from honing his craft and pleasing customers, Ono’s work creates lasting non-monetary value and ongoing opportunity.

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Here are some ways to bring these concepts into the workplace.

Use “job crafting” as a way to give your employees autonomy. Job crafting happens when an employee takes their existing job description and puts their own personal touch on it, or, as Harvard Business Review puts it,  “turn the job you have into the job you want.” Designing a job no longer needs to happen from the top down. When you enable your people to job craft, employees expand their jobs beyond what they must do to include what they want to do.

To harness the power of job crafting, don’t make it a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process, so at each stage of an employee’s career, make sure to help them get closer to the impact, to better feel the mission in their work. This is particularly important and motivating for the millennial workforce.

Show the destination, not the way. Micromanagement is counterproductive, unnecessary, and stressful. It’s bad for morale, building trust, and company culture. Consider the opposite end of the spectrum: giving employees complete control of the process. Let them lean into their potential.

Create goals together, and develop a cohesive vision. Clearly share the purpose of these goals. Then, allow your team full discretion to iterate, experiment, and discover exactly how to get there.

When you communicate the intent, you truly empower your team. When you share the purpose, employees can use their own ingenuity to solve the problem and adapt along the way.  This makes employees feel invested, trusted and valued – a huge motivator for all employees – especially millennials.

Encourage employees to create a legacy. Talented high-achievers are driven by the impact of their work. They need to feel the impact. Show your talent exactly how they’re making a dent in the universe.

One major way to showcase impact is by connecting your team to your customers. Share customer stories and testimonials. Let it be known that your collective work matters.

Into the Day-to-Day

As a motivator for your company, look for opportunities to infuse play, potential, and purpose into projects and conversations.

We’re all looking for meaningful work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to implement. It can be as simple as having an impact on someone else, doing your best, and being valued by your colleagues. When we have work that lets us play, allows us to realize our potential, and gives us purpose, we simply do better.

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Abe Taleb

Abe Taleb
Abe Taleb is VP at Koya Leadership Partners, a national executive search firm.

Abe Taleb

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