Every day at Vennli, I’m reminded that a growing company requires passionate, driven employees. We are successful because each member of our team applies their talents fully to our mission. They’re engaged in the work that we do.
We hear that a lot. “Employee engagement. But what does that really mean?
Simon Sinek wisely said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.
Sinek, in his TED Talk entitled “Finding Your Why, eloquently describes the importance of taking the time for this introspection in order to find and fulfill your personal purpose or your business’ mission (if you haven’t watched it, take the 18 minutes to do so – well worth it!). This is vital to an organization’s success, but it requires involvement on both the side of the job seeker/employee and the business.
Occasionally, I’m asked to present to graduate and undergraduates at Notre Dame on the topic of career development. Job seekers of all ages have two challenges ahead of them:
- Find a job that allows them to fulfill their purpose, and
- Articulate how they provide more value than other candidates so that they win their dream job.
Instead of just talking about how to interview well, I steer the conversation to aligning your personal purpose with an organization’s need. When you find this sweet spot, both the organization and you ultimately benefit. You’re doing what you love, and your employer is getting higher productivity and better results. Win-win.
But finding the job where your career vision aligns with an employer’s need can be challenging. This is a three-part process:
- Start by finding your “why
- Connect your personal “why with the ideal type of work and employer
- Articulate how your “why is a competitive advantage over your competition (other candidates)
Finding Your Why
Your “why, or your personal mission, resides in the intersection of your talents, passions, skills and expertise, and values.
(Diagram courtesy of Margie Warrell)
What makes you come alive? What gets you fired up? For example, I discovered somewhat by accident that I love coaching by helping out my son’s middle school football team. This awareness led me to my current role, which involves coaching companies to think more strategically. What type of activities make you the happiest? What are you most passionate about? Make a list.
What are your core values? Ultimately our values drive our decision-making, but sometimes they are in conflict. I find that asking myself the WIN - What’s Important Now - helps me to gain clarity on what really matters (shout out to my former coach Lou Holtz for teaching me this). Is it to spend time with family? To go the extra mile for a client or coworker? Putting it in those terms helps prioritize. What are your “must haves related to your environment and the people around you when it comes to a job? Add these to your list.
Connecting Your “Why to Your Work
What are your strengths? What are you good at? For example…
- Do you see opportunities where others see problems?
- Are you the best at executing a project plan?
- Visionary or detail-focused? Natural leader?
- Can you make the complex seem simple?
- Are you a creative thinker, always looking for a new or better way to do something?
- Or are you a gifted communicator, persuasive seller, networker, or facilitator?
- And what do you know a lot about? What skills do you possess?
Where do you add the greatest value? Sometimes this is a tricky question because you may be good at something that you don’t necessarily love. For example, I’m a detailed oriented person who is good at getting into the nitty gritty of a project, but I get most excited about strategic concepts such as positioning and business development. What assets do you bring to a potential employer? Make sure those are on your list.
How will you measure your success in life? In 50 years, when you look back on your life, how will you know you succeeded? This may sound like a cliché, but putting it in these terms really gets at priorities. Don’t skip this step.
Will you feel successful if you’ve made it to a certain point up the corporate ladder or achieved a certain income target? Or will you feel successful if you’ve made a specific impact on a cause you care about? Or if you were able to achieve something specific for your family or lifestyle? Be as specific as possible so that you know exactly what success looks like to you.
Now look at the list you’ve made – an articulation of your talents, skills and expertise, values, and passions. What do you see? Does your current career path align with what you have noted? In other words, are you currently aligning your “why with an organization’s mission for maximum engagement? If not, can you now see what is missing?
Think about the type of work that aligns best with your list. You might find it helpful to share your list and thoughts with a few close friends or colleagues – outside perspective can ensure you aren’t missing anything important.
Once you have a feel for the type of work that will fulfill you the most, you can search for an employer that has a purpose and culture that aligns with your personal “why – one where you can fulfill your mission while providing value to the organization as well.
Your “Why as Your Competitive Advantage
Now that you’ve articulated your personal “why and having connected it with a type of work, your challenge is to articulate your value to potential employers. At Vennli, we visualize how customers choose by illustrating the market in an intuitive Venn diagram. You can use this three circle diagram to conceptualize how to articulate your “why with potential employers.
Employers are choosing between available candidates. In order to win their choice, you have to know what is driving their decision. This is more than just a list of skills on a job description. It includes their company values and mission (their “why) and how you compare to other candidates in ways that matter to them.
Time for a little more honest self-reflection:
- Why should an employer choose you? Why is the value you provide to the potential employer unique and better than other candidates? (We call this your “Green Zone!)
- How can you continue to build and defend your competitive advantage? Is there additional learning or education you can obtain? Recommendations from your network? Connections you can make? What would make you stand out from other candidates?
Building Engaged Teams
Possessing this self-insight is vital to career development and personal fulfillment, but it’s also important for organizations to understand when building their team. As Sinek points out, when employees believe in the “why of the organization, they will engage fully and the organization will benefit by experiencing higher productivity and better outcomes.
A lot has been written about employee engagement, resilience to change, and employee retention. It may be as simple as aligning an employer’s “why with the employees’ “why.