Guest AuthorPavan Soni

An employee’s search of purpose!

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist 

Have you ever wondered what motivates the people who pick road kills, or clean the sewage, or work at mortuary, or sort garbage? What kind of incentive mechanisms, or positions, or size of cubicles, or reporting structures should motivate them? These are the employees, or in certain cases self-employed individuals, who do things that we might despise even looking at. Still they continue doing these things over and over again. One reason could be that they have nothing better to do, and hence succumb to the fate. Yet another rationale however could be that they have found a meaning in what they are doing. The meaning bigger than the short-term disincentive the task itself offers. 
Now contrast this with our lives, or rather the lives of mortals working in regular shifts, in some job, mostly unaware of what the value add really is. The currency in such jobs is the salary, reporting structure, corner office, title, and some similar inconsequential stuff. Remember, in a country with population of over a billion, there are bound to be a hundred thousand presidents, and a million managers, and the ilk. So no great shakes really! The real thing however would be in having a sense of purpose, for that is the only perpetual driver.
Here I narrate an experience on how leaders, or even ordinary mortals, can set a sense of purpose for themselves and others.
I was once at a large IT company where a client visit was hosted at one of the large Offshore Development Centers (ODCs). The client was a UK based large utility company, and the ODC had about 500 people. The banquet hall was jam-packed and walked in the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the client. The audience expected a 75-slider ppt on the client’s business objective, and how these folks could contribute to it. But something else was in store. The CIO played a video. This is how the video unfolds.
There’s an old lady watching TV in her living room, and suddenly she smells gas. She panics and calls a helpline number, the 911 equivalent in the UK, and a guy on the other side of the line responds calmly, and suggests the old women to go out in open. Over the next five minutes, there is a patrolling person along with an engineer visiting the house, and they do the repair, and the old lady is ushered back into the house. The video is over.
The CIO comes back to the stage, and says -” You know guys, the person who picked up the call was your colleague. The person who wrote the software to track the nearest patrolling person was one of you. The system that predicts such leaks in future is being made here in the company. So guys, you don’t write codes here, you in fact make a difference between somebody’s life and death”.
The audience were stunned. All of a sudden, their level of thinking was raised from writing and maintaining software codes, to make a real, tangible difference in somebody’s life. Once that kind of a purpose is set in, rest falls in place. 
Most leaders fail to offer a sense of purpose to their employees, as to why they are doing, what they are doing. In lieu of the purpose, the conversations are always on packages, promotions, bosses, bonuses, and the ilk, all skirting the core issue of purpose.
So remember, the secret of motivation, both for self and others is ‘an acute sense of purpose’.
I thought of leaving you with this beautiful image from IIMB campus on how nature has a unique way of offering a purpose to all. 
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