Know Your Purpose. Don’t Weaponize It.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series highlighting speakers at the upcoming ERE Digital event. Click here to view other articles in the series.


What is your purpose? What is your purpose as a recruiter? Maybe the answers seem obvious to you. Maybe not. Either way, if you’re like most people, you’ve probably given some thought to these questions at some point.

But you might not be pondering purpose in the best ways.

That’s where Brandon Peele comes in. At the upcoming ERE Digital event on April 16-17, Brandon will lead a session to help you think about purpose in new ways. Vice president of people at ion Learning, Brandon points out that 90% of employees are willing to trade 23% of their salary for more meaning. But what does “meaning” mean in practice? 

Must candidates share your organization’s purpose? Must you share your organization’s purpose? Every talent acquisition professional must understand the answers to these and other provocative questions. Brandon will explore such topics in his talk. In the meantime, I recently spoke to him about the definition of purpose, what it means in the workplace, and why organizations often misunderstand the concept.

Everyone talks about purpose a lot, but I’m not sure everyone pauses to ask what the word means in the context of work. How would you define it?

Purpose is an organic, original, transcendent identity. 

Come again.

It originates from inside of you. It’s not something that you make up and declare based on what other people think or any societal or economic values. It’s your clarion call. People sometimes believe their careers are their purpose, but your career is not who you are. It is an expression of who you are.

Do people typically know or understand what their purpose is?

On some level, yes, we all know some piece of our purpose. But to really understand your purpose, there’s a discovery process, a journey to figure it out. 

How does this play out in a professional context, particularly for recruiters?

When interacting with candidates, recruiters can look at how purpose gets expressed through impact, relationships, and growth. So you can ask candidates, for example: “What kind of impact fulfills you?” Some people are fulfilled by relationships, some through learning and doing. By asking questions that get at someone’s purpose, that person is more likely to feel “gotten” by you, and then will be more likely to accept an offer. 

It also doesn’t matter what part of the work might fulfill someone; it only matters that someone is fulfilled. Fulfillment is more important than engagement. Someone who’s fulfilled at work is more likely to be a high-performer than someone who’s just engaged.

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Do you think that addressing purpose resonates with younger generations more? That seems to be the conventional thinking.

I don’t think newer generations are more predisposed to purpose than anyone else. They are just advocating more for their needs. 

You’ve been talking about individual purpose so far, but companies also often talk about their purpose.

Businesses need to have a transcendent purpose, one that does well by people, suppliers, and the planet. A business should know its purpose, but that still starts with individuals understanding their own purpose. You can’t be a steward for your organization’s purpose if you don’t know your own.

The problem is that 80% of CEOs don’t know their purpose — yet they talk about their company’s purpose anyway. We need to close that gap by awakening individual purpose and seeing its expression through the collective.

What do you think accounts for this gap?

Many companies are starting with end by asking, “What purpose can we communicate about our company?” They don’t necessarily realize this is a discovery process. They are failing famously.

Businesses have got to start with helping people understand their individual purposes first. But instead, they focus on creating a purpose and then asking people to adapt it, which relates to the misconception that candidates and employees need to fit into a culture. If your culture requires someone to fit into it, it’s not a healthy culture. Your culture needs to allow inclusivity of people who come with their own purpose and values. You don’t want to weaponize purpose.


Interested in learning more about what your purpose is or should be or can be? See Brandon and tons of other great speakers at the ERE Digital event, April 16 – 17. Use code ERESD10EXTRA to receive 10% off your ticket price. 

Vadim Liberman is editor of ERE.net (the devil wears TJ Maxx) and a workplace renegade advancing how we think, work, and live. He has previously worked as a strategy consultant to HR and recruiting tech companies at The Starr Conspiracy, as a talent management professional at Prudential, and as senior editor of The Conference Board Review, a magazine for business leaders. Vadim loves to talk about all things talent acquisition and Bravo TV shows. Bring it!

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