Meaningful Work

Summary Written by Jill Donahue
“Businesses become great or meaningful when they are informed by a vocation that gives their product or service, and their employees, purpose.”

- Meaningful Work, page 64

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."- Meaningful Work, page 26

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.

Insight #1

The Harmony of Profit and Purpose

"If we pull our ‘business’ apart from our vocation, then it ceases to be great."- Meaningful Work, page 64

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.

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Insight #2

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."- Meaningful Work, page 43

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.

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Shawn Askinosie

In 2005, Shawn Askinosie left a successful career as a criminal defense lawyer to start a bean to bar chocolate factory and never looked back.

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