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LISA MCLEOD: Keep your employees from getting mired in the mundane

The human mind is a funny thing. We crave purpose and meaning, yet we get easily mired in the mundane.

For example, we volunteer for a project because we're inspired by the vision of better schools or a cleaner park. But as we start organizing the phone tree or sorting the spreadsheet, our inspiration wanes. We lose sight of our original purpose, and the tasks become a meaningless grind.

The same thing happens at work. We start out wanting to make a difference, change the industry, improve lives, create beauty, or make cooler stuff.

Yet we quickly descend into an assembly line mentality, checking off boxes, answering emails and selling stuff that gives us no fulfillment whatsoever.

It's ironic, we lose sight of our larger, more noble purpose because we're focused on the task at hand. But when our tasks aren't part of a larger purpose, they lose their meaning and we're less motivated to get them done.

Lack of purpose strips the meaning and nobility from work.

I define purpose as how we make a difference, whether it's making a difference to your customers, or growing the skills of your team. A purpose is more than just a slogan; it's the thing that puts a fire in your belly and gets you out of bed every day.

The reason we so easily lose sight of it is because purpose is conceptual and the human mind gravitates towards the concrete. But alas, checklists and processes do not engage the human heart or move the human spirit.

The challenge for leaders is to keep purpose alive in the hearts and minds of your team. Here are two of the seven tools we use with our clients to keep purpose front and center:

  1. Customer impact stories (not traditional testimonials) -- Typical testimonials about your wonderful products and services are boring.

Customer impact stories describe how your organization makes a difference. For example, if a customer says, "Your on-time delivery helped us better serve our patients." A vivid description of helping an individual patient is more compelling and memorable than quoting the delivery stats.

Our experiences form our beliefs. When an employee hears a customer describe the impact of your organization, they become a believer in the larger cause, which is the secret of igniting engagement and discretionary effort.

We create customer impact stories for our clients to bring customers' voices and their customers' voices into every level of the organization.

  1. Leadership framing: techniques and language to connect the dots to the larger purpose -- This doesn't come naturally for most people. For example, most leaders say, "The product has to be on time so we're holding people accountable for delivery metrics."

Compare that with, "If we're late, our clients lose business and their employees can't get home. That's why we have lofty delivery metrics."

Promoting accountability for accountability's sake never works. In fact, it has a chilling effect because it feels punitive. But when employees know that other people are counting on them, internal accountability goes up.

I teach leaders how to frame expectations and initiatives in the context of a larger purpose. The result is dramatic improvement in alignment, accountability and buy-in.

We all have boring aspects of our jobs. But when your tasks are framed up in service of a larger purpose, you give meaning to the mundane.

Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod specializes in sales force and leadership development and is the author of "The Triangle of Truth, a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book. Visit www.TriangleofTruth.com.