Personal and organisational purpose with Dr Graham Ward | S1 E4

First published: 30 June, 2020

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Series 1
Personal and organisational purpose with Dr Graham Ward | S1 E4

How do people and organisations become happy and fulfilled?

Dr Graham Ward, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD Business School, talks to The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith about managing personal and organisational transition. Graham discusses his own transition from life as a trader at Goldman Sachs to a new career in executive, leadership and career coaching, before describing the key tactics that organisations should take through periods of change. A particularly apt conversation recorded as the UK begins to exit lockdown and head toward the ‘new normal’.

Metamorphosis of purpose

Like many youngsters starting out in the world of work, Dr Ward had one overriding ambition when he was 18. He wanted to be rich. He went to work in the City, ending up at Goldman Sachs when he was 24. He earned well, but by the age of 37/8 he realised that he wasn’t happy.

During a leadership course, he discovered that he wanted to change his life. Rather than lose his talent, his boss made him Head of Leadership Development – a role he held for three years. He now realises that he had hit a point that many people hit in mid-life. Time is moving fast, the kids are getting older, and the body starts to change. The question he kept asking himself was, “I’ve got a lot of time left, what can I do with that time?

The action his manager took helped Dr Ward to realise his purpose, and he was soon to take a more personal approach to management, and develop a coaching business. This metamorphosis of purpose (for him from wanting to be rich to wanting to help others) is something that individuals and organisations go through, and it can be a tough process.

Understanding yourself

Many people drift through life unhappy. They go to work to get paid while striving to do things that they like. Because they are so focused on getting paid, they pay no attention to their Ikigai (a Japanese concept of ‘reason for being’). They don’t ask two important questions:

What am I good at?

What does the world need?

To learn your true purpose, it’s essential to disconnect from the past as you delve into your current self. If you answer no to the questions of “Am I happy?” and “Am I learning?”, then it is probably time to move on and discover what your compelling purpose is.

The anxiety of transition

Any period of transition – whether personal or organisational – creates fear. Leaving the past behind and creating a new normal is an emotional journey. Dr ward sums it up succinctly:

In that space between one place and another, there is often a lot of anxiety, and a lot of fear. And a lot of courage is required to face up to doing something that is often quite different to the path that you have beaten to date.

That space is what William Bridges terms ‘the neutral zone’ – the place between ending what currently is and the new beginning. It’s the point at which you have let go of what was, but what is to be is not yet fully functional. For most, it’s scary, confusing, and stressful.

Manging transition in an organisation

Dr Ward sees significant parallels between personal transition and the transitions that organisations need to make – and especially in the current climate when we are returning to a new normal at work, but no one knows quite what that new normal will be.

People will have been questioning themselves and their organisations. Many of the most talented people will have asked “Am I best suited to what I’m doing?” People who are returning to work will be anxious. They will question why they are working where they are working and ask:

What does my organisation really stand for, and how does it contribute to society?

A Gatehouse survey found that re-engaging people in the organisational purpose and strategy is considered the top priority by 73% of organisations. The question is, how?

Again, Dr Ward draws parallels between individual and organisational thinking, suggesting that organisations must re-evaluate their values and mission statements, and then validate these with their people.

Managers must be proactive communicators. If you wait until an employee approaches you, then you will probably be too late. When asking how an employee is doing, how they are coping, the manager must prove to be an exceptional listener.

Connecting people to purpose

Dr Ward’s final advice is for organisations to workshop their purpose. Get people sitting together and talking about the culture, how they want to work together, and really understand collective values such as what we do and don’t stand for and what the red lines are, and ask, “What do we want the next generation to be?

The future is business to society, and organisations must consider what to do and do it fast. And when you have conversations with individuals and teams, listen hard and act on what you learn – or you will lose the trust that you have built by listening.

By re-engaging people on what is likely to be an emotional journey, an organisation and its people will be happy and fulfilled.

Useful Links:

Graham’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-graham-ward-1b8573/

Website: https://www.insead.edu/faculty-research/faculty/graham-ward

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