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Increasingly, employees across the globe are prioritizing ‘purpose’ and ‘ownership’ in their working lives. As well as making a living, workers are looking for autonomy and they want to know that their work is having a positive impact on the world.

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are well placed to help workers find purpose and ownership in what they do. This is because SMBs are more versatile and flexible than large established corporations with entrenched practices and procedures. Agile businesses are able to pivot at speed. But when it comes to instilling a sense of purpose and ownership, systemic changes are often needed. 

But first, let’s get to grips with the terminology. 

What is ‘purpose’?

Purpose is a person’s enduring intention to fulfill a long-term aim that a) means something to them on a personal level, and b) has a positive impact on the world. 

Aims that contribute to an individual’s sense of purpose tend to be the ones that also impact other people’s lives, such as developing a cure for a disease, employing people in a business or teaching someone else a new skill. 

Our sense of purpose – what drives us – evolves over time. It’s important to bear in mind that purpose is a journey, not a destination. It’s what propels us and gives our personal and professional lives meaning.

Are we becoming more purpose-driven?

The pandemic has prompted many of us to reassess our values and think about whether we’re living up to them in what we do both inside and outside of the workplace. 

There’s an appetite for making choices that align with our values, and people are evaluating whether their employer’s values align with their own. 

Closer attention is being paid to which organizations treat their workers fairly and use sustainable practices to minimize environmental damage, and which don’t. 

On the whole, people’s career choices are being driven by a desire to make a positive change in the world. In the future of work, it’s safe to assume that there will be a rise in people who want to find meaning in their work by opting for purpose-led companies.

What is ‘ownership’?

Ownership is about being accountable for something and taking the initiative. In a work context, it’s about seeing a task or responsibility through to completion. 

Ownership doesn’t mean working in isolation, however. It relies on collaboration and delegation – and seeking help from others when necessary.  

We’re living in an age where the notion of ownership is changing. 

We used to associate the word ownership with the purchase of an asset such as a home or car. Now that ownership in this sense is becoming out of reach for a growing number of people, its meaning is becoming more abstract.  

Perhaps in the future of work, having responsibility and ‘ownership’ will become even more important in helping people feel like they have more control over their lives. 

Helping workers identify the importance and purpose of their work

The first step to enabling your workers to identify the importance of their work is to define your organization’s purpose. Your SMB’s purpose is the only thing you have direct control over. Attempting to summarize it in a sentence is a good place to start. 

People are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to differentiating businesses who talk about purpose from those who actually practice what they preach. 

Is your organization living up to its values? 

Spend some time with your team to reflect on what your company’s values are and open up a dialogue on what impact it has on the world. On balance, is it net positive or negative?

McKinsey & Company survey found that employees are five times more likely to be excited to work at a company that spends time reflecting on the impact it makes in the world. 

It also found that workers who are given opportunities to reflect on their own sense of purpose and how it aligns with the company they work for are almost three times more likely to feel like their purpose is fulfilled at work. 

Conversely, people who aren’t given opportunities to reflect on their purpose had just a 7 percent chance of fulfilling it at work.

Do the managers within your SMB talk about purpose? Do they lead with empathy? Is there a culture of sharing and psychological safety?

According to Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation, employees must move through the following four stages of psychological safety before they feel comfortable to make valuable contributions:

Stage 1 – Inclusion Safety: Inclusion safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. In this stage, you feel safe to be yourself and are accepted for who you are, including your unique attributes and defining characteristics.

Stage 2 – Learner Safety: Learner safety satisfies the need to learn and grow. In this stage, you feel safe to exchange in the learning process, by asking questions, giving and receiving feedback, experimenting, and making mistakes.

Stage 3 – Contributor Safety: Contributor safety satisfies the need to make a difference. You feel safe to use your skills and abilities to make a meaningful contribution.

Stage 4 – Challenger Safety: Challenger safety satisfies the need to make things better. You feel safe to speak up and challenge the status quo when you think there’s an opportunity to change or improve.

McKinsey & Company’s survey also explored the impact of psychological safety, and found the respondents who experienced little psychological safety in the workplace had a 0.5% chance of fulfilling their purpose at work. 

Of course, it’s also important to provide opportunities for workers to be able to fulfill their purpose at work. 

SMBs should begin by seeking out ways for employees to find meaning in their daily working lives; they should weave purpose into the fabric of their brand values and operations too. 

There are lots of ways to do this. Take John Lewis, for example:

John Lewis calls its employees “partners” because the company is actually the largest employee-owned business in the UK. This is a great example of how purpose can be fulfilled through ownership – in this case, by literally owning a portion of the business. 

The thinktank Ownership at Work published a report that found employee ownership, whether achieved through direct shareholdings or an employee-owned trust, is popular across all locations and industries. 

Some companies help their employees find purpose outside of work by offering opportunities to volunteer for a non-profit for a specified number of days per month, or by offering sabbaticals. 

Portions of this article originally appeared on the All Work website.

The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.6 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at or 208.322.7300.


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