Theorists and practitioners typically use “purpose” to refer either to a company’s mission or to the people a company employs. When referring to a company’s mission, we talk about the “purpose-driven organization.” When referring to an individual’s motivation to find intrinsic value in work, we talk about the “purpose-driven worker.” Both approaches have their adherents, but with each, it’s important to tailor learning to maximize individual purpose and fulfillment.

Describing an organization’s mission as purpose-driven doesn’t limit the term to companies whose mission is “doing good” (in which case hospitals and philanthropies would be purpose-driven, but manufacturing and technology companies would not). Rather, the purpose-as-mission model aligns to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Organizations whose core business is not to “do good” use CSR to provide opportunities to inspire employees through doing good.

Studies have shown that CSR programs positively impact employer branding. Companies with strong CSR programs also tend to have higher scores on engagement surveys. Whether those improved scores yield better organizational performance is not yet confirmed, but a good deal of research suggests that purpose-as-CSR is a useful employer branding tool, particularly for millennials.

For example, the social mission version of “purpose” is what informs companies like KPMG when they help new employees connect their work to social value. Purpose in CSR was also the focus of a recent Korn Ferry study, which found that purpose can help an employer make its brand attractive to applicants. Organizations that use purpose this way may frame it as a benefit: an extrinsic motivator for people interested in companies attuned to CSR.

The Purpose-Driven Employee

A more powerful way to frame purpose is as a characteristic of employees themselves. Purpose in this sense is less about the social value of work and more about each employee’s intrinsic motivation. Just as we know intrinsic motivators are more powerful in creating and sustaining high levels of performance than extrinsic motivators, making purpose-driven employees a unit of measurement opens important doors to attract and retain the best talent.

Purpose-driven workers are wired to see work as a source of meaning and fulfillment, to engage more deeply in their tasks and to make everyone around them more successful. In “Work Rules!,” Laszlo Bock reported that these high performers contribute as much as 18 times more value to their organizations than their peers.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that people who find work inherently fulfilling will outperform people who don’t. While training won’t transform someone who’s wired to work primarily for status or money into someone who works for fulfillment, learning professionals can structure programs around what fulfills their employees.

The RIG Framework: What Motivates Employees?

According to Imperative research, people experience purpose along three dimensions: relationships, impact and growth (RIG):

  • Relationships: Employees who have the number, variety and quality of relationships they find satisfying feel more fulfilled at work.
  • Impact: Employees who are making the kind of impact that’s important to them feel more fulfilled at work.
  • Growth: Employees who see and can take advantage of growth opportunities that are challenging for them feel more fulfilled at work.

Employees who find work that meets their needs in the proportion that’s best for them typically experience the highest levels of fulfillment and therefore outperform their less fulfilled peers.

For example, Zhou is most motivated when he can discover new connections among ideas, advance knowledge and build something new (signs of a high impact purpose profile). Juan is most motivated when he can work collaboratively with peers and help the whole team work effectively (high relationship profile). Zhou and Juan are both part of a team working on getting a new product out the door. Their team leaders have several options for how they assign work:

  1. Juan and Zhou share responsibility for making sure the team works effectively.
  2. Juan does the new product development work, and Zhou keeps the team working smoothly.
  3. Zhou does the new product development work, and Juan keeps the team running smoothly (including bringing in people from outside the team when needed).

Anyone who has worked in product development recognizes that the first option will be hard to manage: When everyone is responsible for everything, confusion can reign.

The second option plays to what’s least motivating for each. Zhou may have the skills to work collaboratively, but he doesn’t find using those skills to be fulfilling. Juan may have product development skills in abundance, but problem solving for product development isn’t fulfilling for him.

The third option plays to what motivates both Zhou and Juan. They both wake up every day thrilled to go to work, because they find their work inherently meaningful.

What does RIG have to do with learning? You can use it to frame what (hopefully) you’re already doing: integrating real work, social interaction and career development into each program.

Applying RIG: Purpose-Driven Onboarding

Consider new employee onboarding, a common learning opportunity:

Relationships: The faster new employees develop a network – strong relationships with peers in and across teams – the more quickly they’ll be productive and the better they’ll feel about the company. This is doubly true for purpose-driven people with high relationship motivation, but every new employee needs to build strong relationships.

Consider ways to structure basic onboarding tasks (getting equipment, finding the bathroom, meeting your team, testing passwords and internet access, making sure your information is correct in the system, etc.) to accelerate relationships. For example, instead of having the current staff join the onboarding session, hand out site maps and contact information, and set the new employees loose to find the resources they need.

Prepare existing staff by letting them know new employees will be among them, and encourage them to be helpful in providing directions. This task is easier when staff already welcome new employees.

For more ideas, YouTube is full of great examples of new employee onboarding.

Impact: The more quickly new employees can see their work making a difference, the more fulfilled they’ll be and the better they’ll feel about their decision to join the organization. Incorporate opportunities for each new employee to share what he or she already knows. When their introduction to coworkers includes examples of how they’ve made an impact before, coworkers gain useful insights into the character of their new colleagues, and the new employees build credibility.

It’s not unusual for new employees to be drawn into discussions that draw on their previous expertise – discussions that would have been invisible to them without the early opportunity to share what they know. As they provide real help in real work settings, employees who find fulfillment in making an impact thrive.

Growth: Good onboarding programs put each new employee’s job in context. Managers introduce the tasks they will expect each new employee to perform, but they introduce those tasks within the larger framework of the company’s business, helping new employees understand the impact their work has on the entire organizational ecosystem.

New employees who value growth opportunities benefit from understanding their jobs within the context of different career paths as well as different jobs. Consider introducing them to people who previously held their jobs and advanced to other roles. They can talk about their career paths, providing inspiration and the beginning of an informal professional network.

Organizations with strong interest groups provide informal growth opportunities. Employees who thrive on personal and professional growth benefit from knowing what social and professional networks are available to them at their new organization. Consider inviting leaders or members of key organizations to talk about their work and how new employees can get involved.

None of these activities needs to burden instructional designers or facilitators. In fact, engaging various communities within the organization in welcoming new employees can reduce their burden. More importantly, framing orientation around the three dimensions of purpose can go a long way to convincing new employees that their need for fulfillment will be met easily in their new role.

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