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Firing on All Cylinders - Cylinder #2: Purpose

In the winter issue of Firing on All Cylinders, you read about the first of four cylinders that are essential to a firm’s long-term success. This issue’s topic is purpose.

Professional purpose is the belief by partners and team members that they’re doing important work, and doing it well. It is the sense that what they are doing matters to colleagues, clients, and to themselves.

All of us need reasons to wake up every day. Certainly it involves our families, friends, and the like. But we also need our jobs to feed our sense of purpose. And guess what? Just about every study on the subject of work shows that there has to be a purpose beyond a paycheck if we want people to remain with us. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory we all remember from Psychology 101. It is often illustrated as a pyramid where air, food, shelter, are at the bottom and self actualization is at the top. Professionals are almost all striving for self actualization, for fulfillment of purpose at the highest possible level.

As has become painfully obvious to firm leaders, the Gen Xers and Yers in firms had their food and shelter taken care of long ago, so they’re very focused on self actualization. It’s in our best interests to help them attain it. One of the ways to do that is create a sense of purpose.

How to Create a Sense of Purpose

  1. Include people in your thinking as a leader. Communicate the firm’s vision of the future (mission, goals, strategy, etc.). Be specific with your goals. Include financial, recruiting, operations, and business development goals in your communications.
  2. Make sure everyone understands their role in reaching firm goals. Every employee, from the runner to the managing partner needs to be clear about this.
  3. Use your intranet, email, and team meetings to reinforce the goals frequently and to let people know how close the firm is to achieving them.
  4. Be sure team members are part of the reward system in your firm when goals are reached. Money’s nice, but there are plenty of non-financial ways to reward people.
  5. When you reach a goal, communicate it to everyone in the firm and celebrate it. Gather everyone together, even if it’s only for 15 minutes, and talk about the achievement. Thank everyone. Eat something unhealthy. Laugh, smile and evoke emotion in people.
  6. Keep partner disagreements within the partnership. Fight like mad in a partner meeting if you must, but when you open the doors of your conference room, you must support the decisions of the partnership, or you must find somewhere else to work.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009