What’s the Point of This?

Written by Katie Burke

In college, I got certified to teach middle school, so I spent countless hours with highly inquisitive, often remarkable and occasionally exhausting thirteen-year-olds. One of their favorite questions to ask (like most teenagers) was, “Ms. Burke, what’s the point of this, anyway?”

It’s easy to dismiss the What’s the point? question as symptomatic of teenagers (or millennials, for that matter), but the truth is that all of us look for purpose and reason in what we do every day — the eighth graders I taught just happened to be more vocal about it. Recently, when we ran an experiment on our new HubSpot Jobs page I had a flashback of being in front of the classroom. We embedded Slack functionality, allowing candidates to ask our recruiters and hiring managers questions in real-time. Traction on the Slack channel varied widely, leading the team experimenting with it to ask, “What’s the point of this? Is it worth it?”

This simple conversation made me realize I had failed the team as a manager–I had given them the autonomy to experiment but not the rationale to understand what success or failure meant for our company, our team, our learnings and our ability to grow as a team. It was a good reminder to me of three key reasons why what’s the point matters.

1. Employees will be more engaged: Data shows that 73% of purpose-oriented employees are likely to stay at their companies for three years or more. But well beyond the data, the best employees want to feel like a meaningful part of the work they do and own the outcomes associated with it. Giving them broader context on why it matters, how to think about success, and what outcomes any given project will drive for the company, customers, or candidates goes a long way. Talented employees on any team have a myriad of options for what they do and where they work, so give them a compelling mission-driven project to work on, meaningful purpose behind their daily tasks, and as much transparency as possible to help them learn and grow.

2. The output will be better: If you, as an employee, don’t know the point of a given exercise or task you’ll only do what’s asked of you. But if you understand the meaning and context behind what you’re doing, you’ll feel the autonomy and imperative to think outside the box and get creative. In the Slack example, it was easy to look at a snapshot of a week’s time and think the experiment didn’t work, but once our culture and recruiting teams had more context around the “why” of the experiment, they came up with even better ideas than the initial scope of the project, including recruiting Q&As and Ask Me Anything sessions with employees–both of which created impact and results for the company above and beyond what we had initially anticipated.

3. Prioritization will be more effective: As a leader it’s easy to get into the rush of the daily grind. Overwhelmed by volume, fatigue and everything in between, it’s easy to start asking your team or your colleagues to work on projects just to get them off the collective checklist; that’s not good for your business or your team. Forcing yourself to understand the purpose of a project and explain (even informally) how it fits into your team or company goals ensures that you’re prioritizing what’s truly important for the business versus being reactive based on requests or demands. That’s good news for everyone involved, from shareholders to employees to colleagues and fellow leaders.

Jack Welch, management guru, former GE Executive, author, and my former professor at MIT once said, “any company trying to compete must engage the mind of every employee.” He’s right–you need to win the hearts and minds of your employees, not just with your high level vision, but with an understanding of the purpose and intent you put behind every key initiative. Management initiatives often focus on the who, the what, and the how as our natural inclination as businesses grow and scale. But the why really makes a massive difference, both in the ownership and accountability employees feel and in their overall job happiness and satisfaction.

“What’s the point?” gets a bad wrap as a question. It’s often considered a bratty or annoying push on behalf of young employees. But the truth is that humans are inherently purpose-driven, and just because you or your team are busy doesn’t mean you should skip giving people context on the reasoning, logic and purpose behind the tasks you’re sending their way. Doing purpose-driven work is more interesting, more dynamic and more fun for everyone involved, including managers and executives. And if it doesn’t fit those criteria, what’s the point, anyway?

Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond Blog.

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