- To achieve career success, you have to understand how your job helps your company fulfill its purpose.
- That’s according to Martha Delehanty, HR chief at Verizon, and Neil Irwin, New York Times reporter and author of "How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World."
- Seeing your work in a broader context will help you perform better and develop relevant skills.
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Successful people see the big picture.
They get ahead because they know how they can best make an impact — on their team, on their organization, and even on the world.
Figuring this out is simpler than it sounds. Career experts and executives say it comes down to a key question that every ambitious professional should be able to answer: What is my company’s purpose?
And with that: how does your work fit into that purpose? Once you know how those pieces fit together, you’ll be a more valuable asset to your company and your industry.
Understanding why your job exists will make you a better employee
It doesn’t matter if you work in sales, recruiting, or any other department.
Martha Delehanty, senior vice president of human resources at Verizon, said knowing exactly why you’re showing up to work every day will motivate you to perform better. It’s something she’s observed over 20 years in Verizon HR.
"Building links to why the company exists and how the company makes money — and being very clear on that — is probably one of the biggest keys to success," Delehanty told Business Insider at the From Day One conference in June.
Scientific research backs up Delehanty’s observation.
For example, a 2014 Harvard Business School study found that college cafeteria workers served students faster — and students were more satisfied — when the workers and the students could see each other, compared to when they couldn’t.
And a 2007 University of Michigan study found that university call center employees performed better when they met beneficiaries of the scholarships they were trying to raise money for.
In both cases, employees appeared to be motivated by seeing the tangible results of their effort. One of the authors on the cafeteria-workers study explained it to the Harvard Business Review. "Think about an office job where your head is down and you’re just processing paperwork all the time and are separated from the customer," said HBS professor Ryan W. Buell. "If suddenly the beneficiary of your labor is visible to you, it could change how you feel about the work."
Understanding the purpose of your daily tasks can also help you succeed in the long term.
Neil Irwin, the New York Times’ senior economics correspondent and the author of "How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World" told Business Insider that viewing your work in a broader context can enable you to "see around corners." Specifically, you’ll be able to answer questions like, "Where is value being created? What parts of this business are driving it forward? What are things that might get automated out of existence or face new competitive pressures?"
When you have a solid grasp of how your company and industry are evolving, Irwin said, you’ll know which skills you need to develop in order to stay relevant.
Start by asking how your work connects to your manager’s
When it comes to linking your job to your company’s purpose, it’s OK to start small. The first step is to figure out how your work connects to your manager’s.
On The Muse, Lea McLeod recommends finding out, "What is the most important thing your boss cares about?" Maybe it’s hours billed; maybe it’s new customers reached. Whatever the answer, McLeod writes that it can help you "see exactly how you and your team fit into the bigger picture."
The best way to gather this information is simply to ask your boss outright what their priorities are. Former Googler and Facebook exec Libby Leffler recommends that new employees see if their goals match up with their manager’s by saying: "Here are the things I believe we should focus on for the next few months. Are these aligned with your expectations of where you think we should go?"
You can also do a time audit to make sure your daily tasks are the ones that create the biggest impact. Former Google HR exec Justin Angsuwat previously told Business Insider that "the single best way to impress your boss is showing you can prioritize the things that matter and then executing well on those things."
As you advance at your organization, thinking about those questions can help you pinpoint your next move.
Business Insider previously spoke to Sharfi Farhana, senior vice president of talent acquisition and management at ANGI Homeservices, about how she invented an executive position — head of executive recruitment at IAC — from scratch. That role allowed Farhana to brand herself as a talent-management expert, and eventually launched Farhana into her current position.
Farhana said her initial pitch to her boss was essentially: "Here’s the data behind all of the executive hires we’ve made internally. … Here are the cost savings of having had those roles filled internally versus going externally." That is to say, she emphasized how the new role would help the company achieve its financial goals.
Even beyond impressing your boss, a sense of purpose can make the difference between tolerating your job and loving it. To be sure, purpose has always been important to employees. But Delehanty thinks it’s more meaningful today than ever before.
Beyond compensation and benefits, she said, feeling "that my work is linked to something bigger than myself" is now "a bigger part of the employee value proposition." The implication: Connect to the organizational mission, and you won’t just further your performance, but feel more engaged, too.
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