An award-winning entrepreneur and author, Aaron Hurst is a leading expert in the fields of purpose at work and social innovation. He has addressed countless corporate, educational and non-profit audiences worldwide. Through his disruptive thought leadership on employee engagement and retention, Aaron has been charting new ground for visionary organizations and movements looking to bring purpose to their people and change the nature of work in the process.
Jennifer Brown: So today we have Aaron Hurst on The Will to Change Podcast, and he is the author of ‘The Purpose Economy‘ which is one of my favorite go-to books on how our economy is changing, and a sort of topic that’s near and dear to my heart. So Aaron, welcome.
Aaron Hurst: It’s great to be here, I’m a big fan of your book as well. I just finished ‘Inclusion‘ and highly recommend it to anyone listening. I got a lot of sort of very concrete ideas about how I need to change the way I approach leadership myself from reading it, so thank you for writing that.
Jennifer Brown: Oh Aaron, I appreciate that, thank you. Yeah it was a challenge, and you’re an author too so you understand the particular anguish of producing a book.
Aaron Hurst: Absolutely.
Jennifer Brown: You know. But I wanted to familiarize our audience with your groundbreaking work, and we do write about it in the book in fact later on in one of the later chapters. I talk about purpose because it really captured my imagination around the expanding definition of diversity dimensions. And when I thought about purpose, I thought a small percentage of our work force today is purpose oriented according to what your research has shown, and yet it’s such an important part of who certain people are, right? They sort of take their queue and they construct their lives both personally and professionally around purpose. So I thought it was another way of understanding all the dimensions of diversity that make us who we are, and I certainly personally related to it because I’m a very purpose oriented person. In fact I get to do the work I love and am passionate about every day, and I would imagine you would say the same thing about yourself.
Aaron Hurst: Absolutely.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah so take us back. How did you end up specializing in purpose?
Aaron Hurst: It’s kind of the family business. My grandfather was the author of the blueprint for the Peace Corps back in the Kennedy administration which is really all about purpose, and connection, and really addressing diversity and inclusion on a global scale, and then ran the Aspen Institute for 25 years. So I really grew up with him as a mentor and a lot of the discussion around the nobility of work, the importance of bringing people together of different backgrounds, and trying to find ways to connect people on what they have in common versus what separates them. And early in my career one of the things I saw, and I was that, there’s a real misunderstanding between the business and the nonprofit community. There’s a very sort of strong sense of us and them, a strong lack of respect. You hear business people saying nonprofits are well-intentioned but incompetent, and you heard nonprofit professionals characterizing companies as just purely greed oriented machines. And I really knew that this was going to tear our country apart and tear society apart if we didn’t find a way to address it, and started an organization called the Taproot Foundation back in 2001 with the goal of really creating almost a Peace Corps for the business community to be able to go into nonprofits and help with things like HR, marketing, technology, and finance. So really helping go and not do traditional volunteering, but actually do pro bono services where they got to really know as human beings the people working in nonprofits. And really saw through working with thousands of teens, working with people all over the world in pro bono service how you could start to see patterns around what gives different people purpose, and how to help build self-awareness around what those elements were around purpose. So that was really the origin story of my curiosity. I’ve always been someone who sees patterns everywhere I go, and last ten years or so I’ve been really focused on looking for patterns around purpose and how it shows up in different people.
Jennifer Brown: That’s so interesting, I couldn’t agree more. You know I would have never thought I would be a corporate consultant because I was a nonprofit gal as well in my twenties, and always an activist, and yet I think the connection into the purpose that lives and exists in corporations too was a surprise to me. And as soon as I could connect into specifically the diversity and inclusion conversation for large organizations, it allowed me a way in and a way to be passionate about those entities and bringing positive change to the people in those entities. But it was a real surprise. If you had asked me if I would be dedicating my life to ameliorating the experience in a large corporation, I’d be shocked. But I think there’s so much intersection there. So I’m not surprised.
Aaron Hurst: Yeah an early mentor of mine, Charles Kusten who I worked for in Silicon Valley before I started the Taproot Foundation, he and I had a lot of these debates about is there purpose in the corporate sector? What does that look like? And that’s part of what really got me looking at some of these patterns. And what we found which is really interesting, is when you look at leadership you see some people really gain this sense of purpose from impact, which is what a lot of us think of when we think of purpose. It’s knowing that your work actually really makes a difference in a customer’s world, that your work matters in that sense. But we also found in equal parts there are people who really see a sense of purpose from just being really values driven, and really helping push themselves and teams to do the right thing, whatever that is, and to push people to show up as their best, most noble self; in and of itself regardless of the task, regardless of the impact gives them a strong sense of purpose. And then Jennifer, we also saw… it wasn’t about necessarily the impact, it wasn’t about values, but just a sentimental love of their art. Whether that art is human resources, whether that love is actually literally art, or whether it’s being a lawyer, but the actual act of doing something beautifully is something that brings a lot of purpose to folks. So really seeing that diversity of things that people gain purpose from helps to think about I think in a way that’s much more inclusive than just seeing it as being about impact.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah and I think what I hear you saying is it’s a difference between extrinsic rewards and motivation and intrinsic, and allowing for that diversity.
Aaron Hurst: Absolutely.
Jennifer Brown: So what is your definition of purpose as your research has highlighted? And maybe now you can share a little bit more about your tool as well.
Aaron Hurst: Yeah absolutely. So I think you just defined it really well which is purpose is really the reason we work when you strip away all those extrinsic motivations like recognition, money, promotion, et cetera. It’s why we still decide we work, what we still get as value out of our work when you strip away all those sort of more superficial extrinsic pieces. And that’s not to say those aren’t important, but purpose is what that core element is. And that’s why working at the Taproot Foundation was so helpful to me, because we had these thousands of amazing professionals who were not getting paid, and yet they were doing incredibly complex hard work, and I got to be a student of what got them to the finish line, what motivated them when they weren’t getting paid, they weren’t getting recognized, they weren’t getting promoted. So that’s how we look at what purpose is.
In terms of our platform, we’re a B Corp, a benefit corporation, we’re a technology company that has developed the first real assessments that can be used to assess purpose inside employers. And we’re working with everyone from Walmart to Etsy looking at a number of things. One is as you’re hiring, are you hiring people who are fundamentally seeing work as being about purpose? Or are you hiring people who are based much more on fear and extrinsic motivation, and helping to screen for those in the hiring process.
And then secondly we do a lot of work with our purpose assessments which is similar to say like a StrengthsFinder or a Myers Briggs, but instead of measuring strengths or personality, it really measures what is someone’s purpose, what are their psychological drivers for meaning, and it helps them explore what their purpose is, how to tell that story, how to make career decisions on it, what kind of leader they are when they’re at their best, and we’re just about- and you’ll love this given your background, Jennifer. We’re about to launch a whole new module that enables you to actually determine what volunteering and philanthropy you should be involved in given your purpose. So it really helps predict psychologically how you should show up throughout your career. So super excited about what we’re seeing and how it’s changing work.
Jennifer Brown: Oh it’s incredible. That’s wonderful, and I would imagine one of those places or directions you would point people is towards working on diversity and inclusion within the context of the organization, right? It’s not always about philanthropy that’s external facing community involvement, et cetera. It’s actually also around bringing your voice to the fore, and maybe you are in a minority whether that means that’s gender minority, or ethnicity minority, or LGBT. But I think the people I meet in corporate, they love their diversity role that they do on the side of the desk in addition to their day job, and in fact they love it more. And so I always think- I’m struck, why can’t we make them more like each other? Why can’t we make people’s day jobs reminiscent and reflective of how they feel when they’re doing work towards inclusion, for example inside the company?
Aaron Hurst: Yeah that was sort of our big hairy audacious goal coming out of the Taproot Foundation, was we heard these people doing pro bono work say it was the most rewarding work of their careers, and at first we’re like, ‘That’s awesome, like we totally created Disneyland for work.’ But then we realized we created Disneyland for work, and with the exception of a few creepy people, no one lives at Disneyland, right? So we’ve got to address the core work everyone does. We’ve got to turn all work into something that’s deeply rewarding. And someone said to me, I think it was actually a speaker at a conference said, “If you live for the weekends, your sh*t is broke.” And I think that’s just an awesome quote, and there’s nothing wrong with getting meaning outside of work, but if you’re not addressing what you’re doing forty, fifty, sixty hours a week, and finding ways to bring meaning to that, that’s a problem and it’s a problem at a personal level, an organizational level, and at a societal level. And that’s really what we’re trying to fix. For diversity and inclusion, I think this is at the core of it, which is really recognizing who each person is not based only on the color of their skin, their gender, sexual orientation, et cetera, but who are they at their core? What is their purpose? What is their potential to make an incredible difference, and how is that connected to the organization’s purpose? Because that makes us all one team, and it helps break down a lot of these differences and turn them into actual benefits.
Jennifer Brown: That’s right. And what do you say- leadership is so important, right? When you look at the messaging, and how senior leaders specifically walk the talk around purpose. I’m curious if they ask you, ‘What can we do to communicate, and to make sure we are aligned with what we say is important?’ If we say purpose is important, and each person needs to feel- as we say at JBC Welcomed, Valued, Respected and Heard for that purpose, what can leaders do at the top of the house to really- to create a climate in which that can actually flourish versus people feeling like there’s such a disconnect when they walk in the door?
Aaron Hurst: Well the number one thing we’ve seen- and West Elm which is one of our favorite clients, not that we don’t love all of our clients but we’ve been working with them for a while, and they’ve just really been courageous about how far they’ve taken this and it’s had incredible results. But the number one thing, and you talked about this earlier, is the difference between purpose oriented people and non-purpose oriented people. Purpose-oriented people are people that have the courage and the psychological disposition to be willing to really embrace purpose. And those that are non-purpose oriented are people who are too scared to really bring their full selves to work. They’ve got fundamental psychological hang-ups that are preventing them from showing up fully as their amazing selves. So what you see with a West Elm and the more courageous companies is starting at the top and just saying, ‘We need to make sure our leadership team- we need to make sure anyone who’s managing other people is purpose oriented.’ Because we know that when you have people in leadership that are not purpose oriented, and they have teams of people who are purpose oriented, it really undermines those purpose oriented people. There’s a lack of relatability. So the number one thing CEOs really need to do is think about who are you surrounding yourself with? What does it mean to have the privilege of managing people in your organization? Maybe someone’s an amazing individual contributor, but unless they’re purpose oriented they should not be in management. So that’s the number one thing.
The second thing we see is just helping every employee understand what their purpose is and how that connects to the organization’s purpose. So with that, our platform enables each person in ten minutes to determine what is their purpose, and then start to connect that to the organization. So they start to understand who they are, so sort of it’s the self, and then it helps them understand who’s the ‘us’? Who are we together? And then the company can move them to the now, which is actually going out there and performing, and doing amazing things. So those are the two most important things we see.
Jennifer Brown: That’s really helpful. I mean tell us a little bit about your research findings. So what percentage of the work forces that you surveyed report being purpose driven? And could you also give us some breakdown of the demographics of some of it? Maybe some of the more surprising aspects and who’s purpose driven in organizations today.
Aaron Hurst: Yeah absolutely. So we’ve done both a national study year before last of looking at the US work force, and then we did a global study with LinkedIn looking at how this shows up across forty different countries. And roughly what you see is that a third of the work force is purpose oriented. These are folks who really do see work as being about adding value to the world and their own self-fulfillment. Another third really sees work as fundamentally being about you go, and identity, and needing work to define who they are and that’s why they work. And a final third is really focused in on work is just a pure financial transaction and necessary evil. So it’s really interesting how that divides. Within that, to your question about demographics, there are a couple things that really stood out.
One is there was no connection to income. So being purpose oriented or not has no impact on your income. So you don’t have to take a hit for being purpose oriented which is one of the old myths that, ‘Yeah I’d love to be purpose oriented, I need to make money.’ No correlation there at all. Purpose actually we found as we studied this then within companies predicts performance. So people who are purpose oriented on every single thing we measured outperform people who are non-purpose oriented. It was better for them, better for their organization, better for their teams, and better for society. Second thing we saw was that there was no racial disparity, that every race and creed does an equally poor job of raising their kids, and basically all have a similar percentage that are purpose oriented, and all really need to do a better job of helping kids early on see that work can be about more than just paycheck and ego.
Then there were a couple other pieces I found fascinating. One was the fact that women are 50% more likely to be purpose oriented than men. 50% more likely. So I think this is really interesting as we look at a lot of the work that’s been done sort of showing the way that leadership and management is moving where traits typically associated with women have been stated to be of increasing value, and traits typically associated with men have been of decreasing value, and I think this really sort of numerically showed that. And we also saw as we looked at different countries, the countries where women are fully integrated into the work force as peers perform much higher than countries where women are really thought of as second class, and not really in the work force as leaders.
And then the final piece is around age. We really saw that purpose is much more of a function of age than it is of generation, and that for most people’s career, what they enter the work force as is what they remain, and that there’s a slight jump at the age of 50-55 where I think people start to realize they’re not going to be on the planet forever and they need to start to think about are they doing the things that really matter to them, and they start to become more in touch with those intrinsic motivations. But the whole story about millennials and their quest for purpose we need to understand a little bit differently because it’s not all it appears on a psychological change, but more something around status and how millennials are now seeing the need for purpose as something that’s important to them socially, and as part of their identity, but it may not be rooted in actual psychological changes.
Jennifer Brown: Oh that is fascinating. I want you to say more about that, and I think what I was thinking as you were speaking is if we’re entering into an age supposedly- [pre November 8th] there was so much being written about the ascendency of women leaders, the ascendency of women into senior leadership and sort of the feminization if you will of business, and sort of this inexorable movement towards that, which obviously excited so many of us about the possibilities there. And if we imagine organizations are going to take on the flavor- more of the flavor of what’s important to women, and if 50% more women than men are purpose driven, it really has some interesting implications about how organizations are going to shift, and I think really speak to millennials in a different way because what we do see with millennials- as you know as well as I do, the turnover is rapid. Their disconnection from the organization, the organization’s values happens quickly from the interview, to the first role, to feeling, ‘Okay I’m now in the job and I don’t see anyone that looks like me or has my values so maybe I have one foot out the door.’ I mean maybe this is going to be a good perfect storm in terms of the profile of leadership changing, and the incoming millennial generation, and somehow between these two large changes we’re going to see organizations that finally get what inclusion means, and start to really take their cultures seriously.
Aaron Hurst: It’s such a complicated issue as you know. Some of it’s the simplest of issues, right? When you look at a question of what’s right and what’s wrong. But when you think about it from the strategic standpoint and a historic standpoint, it gets far more complicated. My hope is what we’re seeing right now in our political environment is the last dying breath of the old guard, and it’s sort of a painful last breath but it needed to be worked out of the system before the change could really take hold and see that happen. But one of the most influential pieces for me that I’ve read in the last few months was a piece in the New York Times about the danger of creating an exceptionalism for women, and how a lot of the people who voted for Donald Trump, women who voted for him just sort of said, ‘Well you just can’t expect as much from men as you do from women.’ And I have to be honest, that was sort of what I was saying, and a lot of my talks, and a lot of what I was writing was like look, if you want to hire someone and you know nothing else about them, like hire the woman. And women are statistically just more effective at leadership and management, et cetera. But I think there’s a really dangerous piece that’s on the other side of that which is that ‘men are a class of people who are inherently unable to perform at the same level, and therefore we should give them a free pass when they do things that are against our values or ineffective.’ And I think we have to really be careful about where that line is between celebrating women and their exceptional contributions, which I believe so strongly, and creating a culture in which we can write off men as poorly behaving, underperforming, and like let’s just give them a free pass. Because I think that leads to very dangerous conclusions.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah the lack of accountability. It’s funny you say that. I wrote my book and I had in my mind very much the heterosexual, white, male executive. And it’s very important to me as I’ve grown in this work, I realize that we’ve left entire swaths of people that would look like you for example Aaron, walking by me and leaving them out of the diversity conversation. And when I get up on stage and I say to a room full of white, straight guys, which is a pretty common occurrence for me-
Aaron Hurst: Sure.
Jennifer Brown: And I say, ‘Everyone has a diversity story. Every single one of you understands this on some level, and you may not show it, you may be afraid to show it, you may be afraid of saying the wrong thing, but you’re not building your own leadership competencies. The more we sort of- it’s an us and them kind of dialogue. The less we involve you, then this is your issue too. And there’s so much that we don’t know about somebody sitting across from us. So I think it’s- and on the flipside, I’ll say that I’ve spent so much time with diverse talent, whether that’s my gay friends, or friends of color in Corporate America, and just because someone is of a particular identity doesn’t actually mean that they are an exemplary leader of inclusion. And it’s kind of a huge ‘aha’ moment to say, ‘Well you’re gay, therefore you’re going to be a big part of our efforts at this company.’ Not necessarily, and not necessarily well. I mean I-
Aaron Hurst: Well you see that with some of the new faces coming to Washington DC as part of the new administration who are diverse cabinet members, but there’s some real questions about what the hell that means, and what does it represent, and I think it often can be very dangerous because it starts to create that tokenism and the ability for certain people to talk on behalf of, which is never a very effective model. So yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s also- this is why I’m such a fan of purpose as a next generation of diversity and inclusion, because it really says everyone has a purpose, everyone has psychological purpose drivers, and sort of a manifest destiny to make an impact in the world, and like let’s focus on that because that really cuts across all races, genders, et cetera to really help everyone be at the table and talk about what unites us instead of what separates us, and to help us find ways to talk to people that we otherwise would assume we have nothing in common with, someone of a different socio-economic class, different race, sexual orientation, whatever it is, and realize that at the core we actually are incredibly similar about the thing that matters most which is our purpose.
Jennifer Brown: You know you’re reminding me of Kenji Yoshino and his book on covering, which I quote him all the time. He quotes the author of ‘Bowling Alone,’ it’s an interesting book, and he talks about bonding capital versus bridging capital. And it struck me- I do a lot of work with affinity groups in corporations, so we are hired to come in and do leadership training, and strategy development for like women’s networks, and LGBT networks, and the black network, et cetera. So these groups are huge, and growing, and corporations are proliferating. And it’s interesting because we’ve spent I think historically a lot of time on the bonding capital, the establishment of our community for safety, which is a real need, and to be able to find each other, and share stories, and speak with one voice, and be reassured in a very concrete way.
But the bridging capital is equally important, and maybe even more important going forward, which is that we need to be able to spend an equal amount of time reaching across difference and building relationships laterally. And in my experience the history of diversity initiatives in corporations has been to bring the affinities together for bonding capital purposes. But I think now- and we got this big wakeup call to say who are we not including in these conversations? And will affinity groups really be the architecture that lasts going into the future? And I’m asked that a lot and I honestly don’t know. I work a lot in them, and I believe in them deeply, but I also think- and are they structured in the right way in order to take us to the next conversation?
Aaron Hurst: Well it’s also bonding on what, right? So I think there can be over time, there’s different needs to bond on different groups and different communities. And I think it has been a very real need to create that bonding within some of the groups you’ve been working on, but maybe we need to create more bonding around shared purpose, or other elements as well, and to think about bridging in different ways as well. So I think it’s both that bonding and bridging question, and then the question of what are we bonding about, and what are we bridging between?
Jennifer Brown: And it reminds me of the millennials when they define diversity, they start with diversity of thought. And it’s been- that’s surprising to some people in the older generations who associated diversity with identity, and I think it makes your point, we don’t quite know what to do with that diversity of thought emphasis, especially those of us who still look at organizations and see these huge disparities in terms of representation and demographics. And then we have an incoming generation that is focused on diversity of thought as its kind of primary definition of diversity, and when you ask them, ‘What is your diversity story? How would you identify that?’ They give you sort of a long list of all of their intersectionality, and it’s beautiful to watch, it’s incredible and it’s challenged me to think about my identity for sure differently. But there is a concern that I’m not sure they understand, the difficulty we’re still having with kind of pure representation-
Aaron Hurst: I think that’s become more obvious in the last few months, and they’re seeing more understanding of that. Also my experience with millennials saying diversity of thought, what they’re really saying is diversity of purpose which is what underlies that. So I challenge people to sort of listen for what they actually mean when they say diversity of thought, what’s really going on there?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah I don’t think it’s unpacked very often. So the Maslow Hierarchy really still resonates with you. I mean I know you talk about it a lot, and I think about it a lot as well. I think about safety needs, and I think especially in the election we saw these differing definitions really of safety, and sort of our basic needs in our society, and some of us were having a conversation around etiquette, and propriety, and maybe our feelings around language. And others were having sort of a what I call on the Hierarchy, a different level conversation about- and voting based on different levels of need. So I’ve also really had to check myself around organizational diversity that we’re having so many different conversations, and we’re living in so many different places on the Maslow Hierarchy. How do we reconcile that?
Aaron Hurst: Yeah it’s such a- so Maslow’s Hierarchy is awesome in that it’s a very simple model, and it helps sort of make sense of the world. So I use it a lot but it’s also very flawed in that it’s describing human behavior, and we’re all very complex, weird creatures, which makes us wonderful. I think what I’ve seen in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy is that there are certain people who operate out of fear, and for them Maslow’s Hierarchy is absolutely accurate. They have these base of the pyramid needs and they have such- they operate so much out of fear that until those needs are met, they just can’t look at the other pieces, right? But then you see people who operate more out of love and a sense of abundance even when they’re living in abject poverty, even when they’ve got a very challenging situation, and they still find ways to really operate at the highest levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy despite the fact that you’d want to classify them at the bottom. And you see that with like Viktor Frankl and his work, and his writing about being a slave in a concentration camp in World War II, right? And how he basically was able to operate at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy despite being in a situation where anyone would have guessed he’d be operating at the bottom of that pyramid, because he was operating out of that sense of love and abundance.
So I think you’ve got two different things going on. There’s a need for empathy for the fact that there are a lot of people at the bottom of the pyramid and what do they need to do. I think we also have to recognize that a lot of this is psychologically driven and about whether or not someone is raised to really see the world as one of opportunity and abundance despite whatever their situation is, or someone who’s sort of raised and developed a sense of fear of the world, and really enables you to interact at that Maslow’s Hierarchy very differently.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah thank you for that, because I don’t hear a challenge very often, and I like that lens that we need to look at it, sometimes not in a critical way but in a realistic way. And you just talked about a myth of purpose, and there was some other myths that I was captured by that you talked about. For example, can we build in a discipline to grow in terms of our purpose orientation, and kind of how it happens to those of us that feel it’s so much a part of who we are versus some of us have to maybe work at it, or develop it, or bring it more to the fore I guess. So how would you counsel folks who want to get more in touch with it?
Aaron Hurst: I think the first is to realize it’s within you, it’s not something from outside of you. So a lot of people for example think purpose is about working in a nonprofit, or working in education, or being a social worker, or a nun. And our research which you write about brilliantly in your book, the majority of people working in education, healthcare and nonprofits are not purpose oriented, and are not deeply fulfilled by their work, and we find people in professions that you’d think they have no business having a sense of meaning or purpose who report very high fulfillment, meaning and purpose. So we really need to let go of this idea that there are certain sectors that are purpose oriented and those that aren’t, there are certain jobs that are or they aren’t, and really look within ourselves to say, ‘What is it on a daily basis that brings me a sense of meaning? What are the little things that actually make a good day versus a bad day?’ And you find those things are about relationships.
You know when I worked with a healthcare system, I was shocked to hear doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers report that it wasn’t healthcare that was their primary sense of purpose, it was their co-workers and the camaraderie in the hospital or the in ER which is where they got the most true sense of purpose. So really investing in those relationships, making an impact which is not necessarily about saving the world, it’s about helping someone smile, challenging someone, making a product that makes someone’s life a little bit more joyful or easier.
And then the final piece is growth. We get meaning from growing, being stretched, being pushed, learning new things. So those are all things that regardless of your job you can do, and you own them, it’s not your company’s responsibility, it’s not your manager’s responsibility. They can make it easier but you personally have to first say, ‘Purpose comes within me and there’s no excuses to sort of why I’m not getting that.’ Because the second you start putting up excuses, you’re not taking ownership of the fact that purpose is manufactured by us, not others.
Jennifer Brown: How do you- I mean if you were to counsel people in their interviewing process, and evaluating where they want to work and what kind of work they want to do, and they’re staring at a job description that was certainly not tailored for them, which is a huge problem I think in terms of our disconnect with employee engagement.
Aaron Hurst: Sure.
Jennifer Brown: How can the individual influence that process and stay authentic to themselves as they travel through that walk and that dance with their potentially future employer? And then once they get in, how can you navigate more according to purpose as you grow?
Aaron Hurst: Yeah, no it’s a great question. We do a lot of work with our clients- or using our platform around how to screen for people to make sure they’re purpose oriented and they fit. But I love your question from the other side which is, ‘I’m a candidate looking for a job, how do I evaluate it?’ So there’s a couple things that I recommend to folks looking.
I think the first thing is because we know women are 50% more likely to be purpose oriented, really look at the leadership of an organization. Who’s on their board? Who’s on their leadership team? What role do women play? Because an organization which women play a pretty small role in leadership is very unlikely to be a culture in which you’re going to find meaning as easily. So if you really want an organization where it’s easier for you to manufacture that meaning for yourself, look for women in leadership. That’s sort of number one.
Number two is- my wife works at Amazon for example, and to talk about is Amazon a good fit? It’s somewhat a weird question because they’re in so many different industries, and have so many different sub-cultures. Really encourage people to evaluate the manager that they’d be working with and their team, and really wondering, ‘Is that manager that I’d be working with someone that I want to learn from? Is it someone who I’m clear is purpose oriented? Is it someone who really works for the right motivations?’ Because if they don’t, if they’re all about ego and money, if you care about purpose you’re going to clash and you’re not going to have an easy time really gelling.
And the final piece I’d say based on something I said earlier in the conversation, I’d really think about when it comes to how you lead and how you want to grow as a leader, really thinking about are you a leader who cares about impact, values or craft the most? Are you someone who really is always about how to make a bigger impact? Are you someone who’s always about what is the right thing to do? Or are you someone who’s always about need to do this beautifully and do it with incredibly excellence? Because the organizations where you’re going to thrive are the ones where the dominant culture is aligned most likely with which of those three fits with you.
So if you’re craft and you care deeply about craft, working at a company like Apple where they care a lot about the quality of what they produce is going to be a great fit. If you care a lot about values and doing the right thing, a company like Google is going to be a good fit. But if you care about impact, a place like Amazon is going to be a much better fit. So all three of those companies do more or less the same thing, but they each approach it with a different type of purpose leadership, and knowing which one you are will help you determine which of those would be the best fit.
Jennifer Brown: That’s right and then you add to that equation your manager which is separate from the company, and has their own style. When you’re sitting across from someone, and you must meet so many different people and this is all going through your mind, thinking to yourself; A) is this person- is purpose important to this person, and what kind? How do we- what are the signals about the person that we are meeting or interviewing with that can tip us off? I mean I’m asked a lot about when- for diverse talent they say, ‘How do I go into that interview and assess if I’m going to be comfortable working for this person, or working for this company?’
And it’s always a really hard question to answer because when it comes to race, and ethnicity, and gender, and sexual orientation, it’s like we’ve got to speak in code all the time, and you can’t kind of come out and say, ‘So what does your company do to support people that look like me?’ It’s cheeky to ask that although I’m sure there are plenty of millennials that go in and feel like they’re interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing them. But I’m asked that a lot and it’s hard because you kind of out yourself, and it may not be as risky to out yourself as somebody for whom purpose is really important, as maybe outing yourself around your sexual orientation, say. But it is, it’s a tough question and it may kind of put people on guard to say, ‘Is this person being too demanding?’ Et cetera. So how do you look at that and how do you know what kind of person you’re actually dealing with and evaluating?
Aaron Hurst: So I don’t have an answer for the question around how do you bring up the issue around those more classic ideas around diversity. I think that’s a really tricky thing and I agree that if you start bringing that up in an interview it’s going to raise red flags for a lot of employers. That may not be fair but I think that’s true. On the purpose side we have an online tool that enables you to screen people for likelihood of being purpose oriented, but I encourage people- there’s sort of three areas I recommend a hiring address to probe to see if someone’s purpose oriented. And no one of them is conclusive but if you look at all three of them together it’s pretty conclusive.
The first one is really looking at- the question I often ask which is, ‘If you became suddenly independently wealthy, like how would that change your life?’ And what you’ll hear from purpose oriented people is not that they would necessarily take the job that you would be offering them, but that actually what you hear is they say, ‘I’d still want to make an impact, I’d want to look for ways to build greater relationships, I’d want to grow.’ So they’d be giving you examples like that versus, ‘I would hit the golf clubs, or hit the beach,’ which is usually someone who sees work in a very different way, or someone who would state things that were all about gratifying their ego and making them sort of seem more important than they are.
The second question is really around relationships. Purpose oriented people tend to bring their full selves to work and to be authentic at work, which means that their relationships at work aren’t just transactional. They actually give a damn about other people and as a result they do this really crazy thing Jennifer, called making friends at work. And what you’ll tend to see with purpose oriented people is if you ask them about past jobs, they’re still in touch with many of the people they used to work with. Because again, they didn’t just see them as transactional, they actually built relationships. So asking them, ‘Tell me about some of the people who you’re still in touch with from past jobs and how you stay in touch,’ gives you a lot of insights.
And the final piece I just ask them to walk through their LinkedIn profile and talk about what were the major decision points in your career, and what drove that decision? And listening for whether or not it’s about, ‘I couldn’t make more money, couldn’t get promoted, I wasn’t getting the recognition I needed,’ or whether or not those questions are fundamentally about, ‘I wanted to make a bigger impact, I wanted to meet new people, I wanted to grow differently.’ Those are signs of someone who’s motivated by purpose.
Jennifer Brown: That’s so useful, thank you. I love you always think in lists of three I’m noticing. It’s good, it’s very memorable. And as you describe all of these things it’s funny, again I’m reminded of all the stakeholders I work with in my diversity work in organizations. They fit all of those bills that you just described, and that’s why I have a sense that- a bias maybe that people who make time for diversity and inclusion inside their organization, they actually fit everything you just described. If you had all the time and the money in the world, what would you dedicate- would you dedicate your life to equality, or inclusion, or giving a voice to others? Do you maintain relationships?
When we look at people who are involved in a company’s diversity initiatives, they actually- I believe they have this richness and they actually have a breadth of exposure in the organization that is enabled by their work- that extra work on diversity and inclusion, and that’s got to be great- it’s great for networking, and promotions, and visibility, and all that good stuff. And then I see people that are passionate about inclusion making decisions about their careers all the time based on trying to get closer and closer to being able to do that work full time.
And it’s exciting and I wish that- gosh I wish I could wave my magic wand and create a bigger industry to do what I do, because we get- our cup is so full. It’s just incredible to meet all these change agents and people that are passionate without their company ever really asking them to be passionate, they are stepping forward and doing it out of that need and want for a higher meaning. So you know, they’re very energizing people to me.
Aaron Hurst: We’re very lucky to work with the people we work with.
Jennifer Brown: We are, absolutely. I have a final question for you. Where can folks access your tool? And if you want to share a little bit about where are you taking your business model? How can companies and individuals avail themselves of the opportunity to interact with your science and data?
Aaron Hurst: It’s a generous question, thank you. So www.imperative.com is our platform where we offer assessments for companies.
The way we work though is that we really believe in empowerment, so as a result we don’t provide the tool just to the general public or to companies unless they have at least two leaders certified on the science of purpose. So we have leaders come and they go through a four day intensive just to learn all about the science of purpose, and then we help them over the course of the year start to pilot the addition of purpose into their diversity and inclusion work, their recruiting work, whatever their focus is, and build a community of practice around other leaders at other companies doing the same. So together we can really help redesign work itself, and really get rid of a lot of these HR systems that were designed for people who are not purpose oriented, and the assumption was the default employee was not purpose oriented, when in fact the employees we want are the ones that are purpose oriented and we should build those systems around them.
In terms of where we’re going with the company, a lot of it is just we’re really trying to get as many companies to adopt these purpose science assessments as possible, and to really adopt them deeply within the organization so we can create that fundamental shift so that purpose is what’s valued. Long, long term, my hope is to figure out how do we get the overall workforce to be more than a third purpose oriented? How can we make that forty, fifty, sixty percent of the workforce? Because that’s going to have such incredible implications for everything from our economy, to healthcare, to politics, to how companies are run, to people’s satisfaction, and enjoyment of their lives. So I’m just constantly looking at how can we use this to create pressure on our educational system, on parents to be really thoughtful about the kind of kids they’re raising and educating, and how their relationship with work is defined, because it has a huge impact on their lives.
So that’s sort of where we’re going, and I’m really encouraged and believe- there’s a lot of reason to believe we can get there, and a lot of that is based on people like yourself and leaders inside companies who are seeing how purpose really is the unlock for so many of these issues that we’ve been struggling with whether it’s volunteerism, inclusion, employee engagement. In a lot of cases I think we’ve done incredible work, but we’ve gotten stuck and the purpose has been really get us unstuck on a lot of these pieces.
Jennifer Brown: And I love it because it’s such an accessible concept, and I think that’s been part of the challenge is we have this kind of archaic or academic conversation about the terms, and terms themselves are proliferating rapidly when it comes to- you said diversity and inclusion conversations. So purpose is something I think we can really access in a different way, and maybe it will provide that bridging capital and that common lexicon to make some real progress.
Aaron Hurst: And just in closing I just wanted to share Jennifer, as part of the work I’ve been doing, I’ve been interviewing CEOs of major companies for a new book on purpose driven leadership and how different CEOs fit into these different purpose types. And one of the things that just about every CEO, including some of the old white guys which make up more of the list than I would like, every single one of them when they’ve talked about purpose and their core has talked about diversity and inclusion as one of their highest priorities. And from not just a PR spin perspective but from a very authentic place of personal discovery, often going back to childhood and really understanding to your point how it’s their story as well. So it’s one of the reasons I have great hope and really think that our incoming president doesn’t represent the majority of CEOs in companies, and in fact as I’m talking to CEOs they’re very, very attuned to this and they care deeply about it. So I just have a lot of hope for the future of the workforce.
Jennifer Brown: You know and what you just said is going to make so many employees sit up a little taller to hear that you are hearing that from the top of the house and from the white male executive, to know that you’re supported by that person even though maybe looking at them in an org chart you would assume they don’t understand.
Aaron Hurst: They’re often scared- they’re scared to do anything because they don’t know what to do that’s appropriate but they care, and they’re all up at night trying to figure out how to solve for this and just don’t know what to do, and they’re scared to do the right thing. So give them the courage to fail a few times and find the right way to do it, and know that like- judge them by their intentions and help them get there.
Jennifer Brown: I love that. Oh it’s such a good note to end on, Aaron. Thank you so much. I learned so much during this conversation, I always do, and keep up the good work, and we look forward to your book with CEOs’ voices, and I know they’re out there and I do take hope in that and optimism in that that our leadership especially in Corporate America is really going to lead the way on a lot of these conversations.
Aaron Hurst: Amen.
Jennifer Brown: Amen to that. Alright thank you, Aaron.
Aaron Hurst: My pleasure.
Jennifer Brown: Thanks for coming on.
Aaron Hurst: Cheers.
Jennifer Brown: Alright, bye bye.
You can find out more about Aaron Hurst and his work over at www.imperative.com.
Book’s Twitter: @PurposeEconomy
Facebook profile for his book: https://www.facebook.com/purposeeconomy/
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