Want Team Engagement? Motivate People with Purpose

Integrate purpose and employees will be more fulfilled, involved in their work

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end… it’s when you have everything to do and you have done it.”

Productivity and success on the job start with employees having a sense of purpose. Giving people the ability to focus on a problem – making clear the “why” of a request – clarifies purpose and leads to job satisfaction. I like to do an exercise in our Team Dynamics workshop where small groups gather and one person volunteers to share (and draw) a project he has worked on and why his role is important to the company. You can imagine some are eager to share while others are not.

So how do we make sure everyone is eager to share?

Motivate employees with a purpose-driven environment

The number one question on the minds of most business leaders today is, “How do I motivate my team?”

In order to instill motivation, let’s look to well-known theories of motivation. American-born psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated a positive theory of motivation in his 1943 paper called, “The Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow looked at admirable people such as Einstein and Jane Adams along with the healthiest one-percent of college students to develop his famous “Hierarchy of Needs.” Maslow’s pyramid ranked the most basic of human needs: starting with physiological needs at the bottom and running up to self-actualization at the top.

Maslow described the need individuals have for personal growth and discovery throughout their lives as self-actualization, calling the journey toward this basic human need a powerful motivator. To follow Maslow’s theory, managers who tap into this journey – who allow employees to seek fulfillment and change in the course of their workdays – give employees that intrinsic motivation to succeed.

At the core of being human, Maslow’s theory revealed we all desire among other things, self-actualization – a sense of how you feel about yourself.

So what do employees need to be motivated and fulfilled? Maslow determined that a sense of purpose and meaning are closely linked to human satisfaction.

Linking purpose to self-actualization

Often, careers require that we are with our co-workers more than our families. So when we think about where humans become self-actualized, it makes sense that our work life has a significant impact.

Following Maslow’s theory that maintaining purpose in the workplace can improve our “sense of self” and how engaged we are on the job, it makes sense that the physical work space and our collaborative practices can play a substantial role.

Here’s an example from personal experience:

A company with about 250 employees was suffering from high turnover. The work space was made up of “cube farms,” with very little opportunity for inter-department communication, let alone intra-department discussions. Company-wide meetings were limited to large gatherings each quarter, though the nature of the business required departments to cooperate and work together. Work space and departments were “siloed” as company leaders felt taking people away from their work for collaborative meetings was inefficient and interfered with daily tasks and responsibilities.

Open communication was not properly valued and people’s sense of purpose was getting lost. Fortunately, they were able to change the work environment.

Today, the company is no longer a disengaged organization. With new leadership, the company removed the “silos,” and reinvested in work areas and collaborative spaces. Instead of simply giving direct orders as they had in the past, management allowed employees the freedom to figure out how to best go from A to Z to meet established, and agreed upon, goals and objectives.

This change was crucial for re-establishing trust and self-actualization among employees. Following Maslow’s theory, the company first took an interest in the workers’ needs to make them feel important. With the autonomy to complete their projects, employees gained ownership in the company. With ownership, they were more enthusiastic about their work, and have an improved purpose and “sense of self” – positively impacting everyone around them.

Maslow would be proud.

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