This is the final article in a 4-article series that explores each of the Four Questions leaders must ask to reveal the total job role to employees, connect daily work activities to organizational purpose, and inspire the collective pursuit of a common aspirational goal. The act of contemplating and responding to each of the Four Questions is designed to bring job purpose into the light, first for yourself as a leader, and then to help you enlighten your employees. This is how you give them something tangible to see and connect to—and customers something to sense and experience.
Answering these questions for yourself will connect you to your purpose at work and prepares you to confidently address the subject with others. First, the questions help reacquaint you with your organization’s existing mission, vision, or purpose statement(s) as well as its corporate ideals, core values, principles, pillars, or guideposts. You must be fluent in these corporate ideals if you expect to have any credibility connecting employees’ work activities to the purpose of the job role.
Second, they help you develop your own understanding of how core organizational values can shape behavior, decision-making, and the development of team goals and aspirations.
Third, they help you get your own house in order. You must be able to articulate your own job purpose and model the values, actions, and behaviors that support it before you ask the same of your employees. That is why I first recommend answering these questions for yourself before exploring what the answers might be for any of your employees. It is true that there will be overlap in the responses as they apply to your role and the roles of those whom you supervise, manage, or lead, and with whom you work as peers. And, in some cases, the responses will be identical.
Once you have uncovered the purpose of the job role (Q1) and its associated core values (Q2), expanding them into statements and labeling what they look like in action, and have isolated the specific actions and behaviors that will actuate job purpose and core values (Q3), you’re ready for the fourth and final question, which is: What is my team’s aspirational goal?
Chouinard Equipment was a mountain climbing gear company co-founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1965. By 1970, it had become the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the US. Its products included pitons, steel spikes that are driven into a crack or seam in the rock surface to support climbers. The same fragile cracks have had to endure the repeated hammering of pitons during both placement and removal, disfiguring landforms across the nation.
As pressure from interest groups mounted, Mr. Chouinard transitioned from the environmentally destructive iron pitons to aluminum chocks that could be wedged by hand rather than hammered in and out of surface cracks. This would be one of the first environmentally conscious decisions made by the company that would later become Patagonia.
Since 1973, Patagonia has been at the leading edge of environmental activism, sustainable supply chains, and advocacy for public lands and the outdoors. Its mission has long been “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. In addition to eco-friendly business practices linked to sourcing and manufacturing, Patagonia contributes a self-imposed Earth tax, 1 percent of its annual net revenue, to grassroots environmental causes. Even so, Mr. Chouinard, now in his eighties, felt as if the company’s efforts were being marginalized by the broad scope of its mission.
So, in 2018, Patagonia revised its mission statement to “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.” In doing so, it narrowed its team’s focus by emphasizing its ultimate goal.
Similarly, organizations can narrow employees’ focus, spur performance, and reinforce commitment by establishing an aspirational goal. When this goal is made clear to all stakeholders, it can become a source of guidance, ambition, and inspiration.
Many organizational leaders focus on tactical goals related to job functions or key performance indicators (KPIs) while relegating purpose to a feel-good sentiment emblazoned on corporate tchotchkes and occasionally mentioned in the CEO’s public remarks and corporate press releases. Or they ignore purpose altogether. But aspirational goals—those imbued with a higher purpose—are much more effective at focusing employees’ attention and harnessing a team’s collective efforts.
An aspirational goal describes a desired eventuality. It speaks to the pursuit of an ideal future state or destination. And for meaningful progress to be made toward this goal, it must be tied to employees’ job purpose. This way, their collective actions, behaviors, and decisions will all facilitate progression toward that goal. Unlike tactical goals that dispassionately guide the execution of job functions, an aspirational goal can be audacious, extravagant, and daring—like saving Mother Earth.
Articulating an aspirational goal can inspire esprit de corps, a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty, among employees, and create moment, movement toward the team’s higher purpose and aspirations.