Use individual purpose to drive change in Covid-19.

10 November 2020

There is no better time to build a workplace where everyone can thrive and feels fully committed.

author picture Article written by Morten Kamp Andersen

Organisations are facing a tactical and logistical nightmare. All energies are focused on safely returning to the workplace, recovering or simply holding tight. “Is this really a time to talk about individual purpose?” you might ask. Yes, now is exactly the time to focus on individual purpose.

Today’s biggest challenge is to maintain employee engagement in a disrupted and anxiety-ridden work environment, promoting well-being and building resilience. Not just to stay afloat. Not just to keep an edge. Individual purpose is the lever to manage change and emerge stronger. It is, therefore, more important than ever.

3 reasons why leveraging individual purpose should be part of the business playbook now

Because people need to find something “in there for them”. Let’s go back to the basics. The WIIFM (What’s In It For Me question has been a staple in Change Management from the early days. People need a reason to change, a strong why that goes beyond corporate goals. The current crisis is amplifying the importance of addressing personal considerations, both as an adaptive coping mechanism and as a proactive strategy to build a more sustainable workplace. And who does not need to find something solid to hold onto to weather the storm? This is where individual purpose comes into play.

Individual purpose can be thought of an individual mission statement. It captures who we are, our values and aspirations. It injects meaning into everything we do. Recent research conducted by McKinsey shows that people who have a strong sense of purpose report levels of engagement four times higher than those who lack it or experience some sort of dissonance. Understanding how well it aligns with the job is thus something that should be carefully considered.

Because caring for people’s well-being and building resilience means focusing on values. Devoting extra time to care for well-being in times of distress is non-negotiable. In our last post, we discussed how sponsorship is changing in the wake of Covid-19. Organisations need more human sponsorship to help people build resilience and absorb the sheer amount of changes that lie ahead.

The McKinsey study finds that people who are operating from a place of purposefulness exhibit levels of well-being up to five times higher. A good way to lift spirits is to discuss and reaffirm values. Values-based leadership strengthens the connection between what resonates with people on a more emotional level and the guiding principles that may also steer the organisation forward (i.e. equality, safety, …).

Because it is an opportunity to grow. Tactical responses to the crisis and recovery strategies are one thing. Refocusing actions and management practices – in other words, fully embracing the change – is another. Zaki makes a good point when he suggests that leaders should shift the conversation from how to go back to normal to how to change for the better. One way is perhaps to restore human capital – that is, talent – to its rightful place. Now is the time to make deliberate efforts to connect individual and organisational purposes. Think hiring, onboarding and assessment processes.

How to incorporate personal reflection

Whether you are a CM manager or a team leader, having one-on-one conversations with employees is probably something you are expected to do on a regular basis. But how do you go about the task of discussing individual purpose? The literature[1] might still be in its early days when it comes to addressing Covid-19 related challenges, but the tools and processes outlined below offer valuable advice to get the ball rolling.

Use empathy mapping as an overarching framework to start the conversation. We understand that the more personal and emotions-loaded the task looks, the harder it is to take immediate and structured action. Are you a CM manager? Explore empathy mapping as an anchor point. Part of the exercise is to address people’s fears and motivations (what they think) and their dominant emotions (what they feel) in the face of change. Consider uncovering or clarifying personal purpose a piece of the puzzle. Ask questions about what they naturally enjoyed doing in early life, how their most challenging experiences shaped who they are, and what makes them thrive now.

Perform a stand-alone “purpose audit” using McKinsey’s 9 values grid. One or a combination of the 9 values illustrated in the table below are particularly salient in each of us (Graph ©McKinsey). Three archetypes emerge. Free spirits value autonomy, learning, and having control over their working routines. Those keen on achievement and traditions, or Achievers, seek to grow social and material capital. Caregivers (caring and stability values) thrive in environments where they can mentor and help others .


Have you been tasked with leading a change initiative, as a CM expert or project manager? Consider how these archetypes make for a good, average or bad match with the job to be performed. Choose the best fit to help roll out changes. Some people start to blossom when given the license to experiment. As early adopters, they can be powerful change drivers/advocates (Awareness and Desire). For other people still, coaching is second nature. They should, therefore, be placed wherever the change process requires this type of skill (Knowledge, Ability). Collaborators who value tradition can play a crucial role in building or cementing community (Reinforcement).

Hire and onboard “consciously”. Hiring? Pivot the selection process and emphasise the importance of personal contribution. Draw up the profile of the ideal candidate at the intersection of archetypal individual purposes and the organisation purpose. Onboarding is also an ideal time to push people to be vocal about their aspirations and articulate their own mission statement.

Use feedback moments to nurture the reflection. Discovering one’s purpose and putting it to the test in a supportive and nurturing environment is not an overnight process. Managers have a major role to play in helping people unlock their potential. Allocate time to discuss values and individual contribution on a regular basis. Make it part of feedbacks and performance assessments. And remember that no purpose is set in stone. Disruptive events such as Covid-19 may act as a trigger.

There is no better time to build a workplace where everyone can thrive and feels fully committed.


[1] This part builds on the following references: McKinsey (2020) Igniting individual purpose in times of crisis, August 2020 ; De Lombaert, R. (2020) Empathy mapping, a particularly valuable tool in times of crisis [online] ; Craig, N. and Snook, S.A (2014) From purpose to Impact, Harvard Business Review, May issue ; Kamp Andersen, M. and Creasy, T. (2020) - Podcast: 5 steps to overcome your change barriers with Team Creasy


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