“Businesses become great or meaningful when they are informed by a vocation that gives their product or service, and their employees, purpose.”
It’s been estimated that you will spend approximately eighty thousand hours of your lifetime at work. That’s a lot of time. Do you love it? Do you feel fulfilled by it? Or, like it is for so many, is work more of an energy drain than an energy boost?
Shawn Askinosie was exhausted after working two decades as a criminal defence lawyer. In search of change, he volunteered at the palliative care wing of a hospital and went on retreats at a Trappist monastery. By focusing on others instead of himself, realizing that being is just as necessary as doing, and seeking to open his heart, he eventually uncovered his passion.
He founded Askinosie Chocolate where he practices direct trade, and profit shares with farmers in Tanzania, Ecuador, and the Philippines. His company also partners with schools in those communities to provide lunch to 2,600 children every day. Their business model has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and on Bloomberg. Shawn was named by O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, as one of “15 Guys Who are Saving the World”.
In Meaningful Work, Askinosie shows us how we can all find meaning in our work, and be a force for good in the world. At the end of each chapter are exercises and tools to help you. His hope is that whether you are beginning a new venture or want to infuse your current one with dedicated purpose, you will experience the deep lessons he’s learned and that they will help you find your next step to meaningful work.
If you are someone who wants to live your best life and create the best business results possible, identifying your purpose or vocation – the reason you do what you do – just may be your essential next move. Seeking your vocation is how you will wake up, see more clearly, experience more joy and uncover your true self.
The Big Idea
Vocations Provide Meaning and Purpose
"There’s a global movement under way in which all manner of workers are seeking meaning and dignity in their work."
Those companies, brands and individuals who embrace the global movement and shift their mind-set to purpose-driven work will be the ones to not just survive but to thrive in the future. Think about it. Having a business vocation isn’t some idealistic notion; it is a direct response to the changing tides of capitalism as we know it. People are seeking a sense of belonging and meaning more than ever before. If you want to attract and retain the best people, you better figure this out fast.
Your company’s vocation, he says, is significantly more powerful than your mission statement. It provides meaning and purpose. Products and services created with intention, by people who feel they’re contributing toward a higher purpose, will undoubtedly be higher quality. Businesses become great when they are driven by a vocation that gives their product, service and employees purpose.
I work in the pharmaceutical industry helping teams connect with their purpose or vocation – to contribute to better patient outcomes. This is the calling that inspires, engages and reminds people why they do what they do. Driven by this mindset, they make better decisions that lead to greater outcomes. For pharma people, we see much greater success when we create engagement through our common purpose to help improve patient outcomes.
The Harmony of Profit and Purpose
"If we pull our ‘business’ apart from our vocation, then it ceases to be great."
Does your company have a ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ department? Most large companies do. While this is a step in the right direction, it may represent an opportunity unfulfilled. Typically, this team operates independently from the other departments. There is an assumption that profits and shareholder value are sacrificed by their efforts. Askinosie says his aim is to transcend the limiting belief prevalent in traditional business that “doing good” is an expense line.
At his company, they think differently. For them, doing good and doing well drive each other and are inseparable! They integrate the notions of their vocation into every department and decision in the company. Perhaps job titles change, or duties are adjusted because priorities have shifted. Or you may start rewarding people differently.
I have found that in pharma, those brands driven by their vocation to serve patients, see the best outcomes. I firmly believe that pharma companies who help each person in their organization identify and communicate their purpose or vocation, will be the ones who will be most successful.
Ideas are great. Action is better!
"In order for the vocation to be truly transformational, it must be woven into the fabric of your organizational culture, with a priority on action."
Having the idea of identifying the vocation is great but not enough. For example, most pharma companies now tell the world they are patient focused. I saw that: you rolled your eyes. And that is the point. Saying is not nearly as good as being. The vocation can’t just be a window dressing for the company. It isn’t effective as a change agent if it isn’t integrated into the business. It must trickle down from the top and bubble up from the bottom.
Pharma leaders often ask me, what do we need to tell our people to do to be patient focused? They are asking the wrong question. When people are inspired with their purpose, they will develop more and better ideas than you could ever tell them. The question should be “how do we empower our people with their sense of purpose?”. This leads to the best part! It is then that they will actively contribute to the business vocation by proposing their own ideas! It is then that they will seek out opportunities to put their vocation into practice every day.
How will you know when it’s working? Askinosie says it’s not a business vocation if it’s not making waves in the organization. It is a living organism that is continually open to growth. He says it’s not about striking an exact equal balance between business and vocation, but about finding harmony between the two, even when they are asymmetrical.
Whether you call it vocation, purpose, meaning, culture, environment or mind-set, it begins with how you make your people feel about the work they do. We must stop pretending that our hearts are not a part of business. And acknowledge that feeling connected to the reason you do what you do is integral to your success.