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Guest Post: On Purpose

Guest Post: On Purpose

Guest author, licensed Agile Fluency Project facilitator, Phil Schmanski. Photo by Phil Schmanski.

Connecting people to purpose can yield incredible results.

Purpose-driven companies have a well-documented advantage over their non-purpose-driven peers, in everything from financial success to retention rate.

Anyone who has used SMART goals effectively in their workplace has experienced this too. This can look like a manager and their employee taking the time to determine a goal to work toward in the upcoming year. The employee has a goal to guide them in their efforts, often resulting in a commendable success to show by the end of the year.

The Agile Fluency Model also suggests for coaches to use this concept to guide the continuous improvement journey of agile teams: calling it the OMV discussion. The OMV (objectives, measures, values) discussion is a means to understanding the vision that a senior manager has for a team that they’re accountable for. This is useful because if one can understand a team’s objectives, how to measure progress toward those objectives, and what value those objectives provide for the team and the organization, then getting people in agreement around continuous improvement simply becomes a matter of framing potential improvements in a way that supports those objectives. As Diana Larsen, co-founder of the Agile Fluency Model, often puts it: “I’m not in the convincing business.” And with the OMV in your toolbelt, you don’t need to be.

The idea even goes beyond business! Fitness coaches and personal trainers use the idea; they call it finding your why. When people visualize the end they’re working toward, it helps them to dig deep during a tough workout, or to simply get in the gym on days they feel lethargic. People who become clear on the reasons behind their fitness goals accomplish them at a much higher rate than people who do not. Now, if this concept yields success in business, in the continuous improvement of a team, and even in fitness, the question must be asked: what else could it be successfully applied to?

As it turns out, this concept can be applied to something even more relevant than all of those: You.

Personal Objectives

How would you answer if you were asked about your life objectives? Are you able to articulate your life’s purpose? Take a moment and seriously consider that.

If you have an answer to that right off the bat, and are even able to explain it in a way that sounds concise and fully-baked, then kudos to you. Really. However, most people would struggle with that question. In fact, most usually avoid answering at all by picking an answer that doesn’t require them to reveal to themselves how little they’ve considered the topic. Something obscure and guarded, like “my kids” or “to make a bunch of money”. But upon inspection we find these answers to be cursory. A person can’t be an objective. And while wealth accumulation is indeed a concrete objective that can be achieved, is that really something to commit your life to? Have you ever heard of a person on their deathbed reflecting on their life, thankful for having made so much money?

Having a clear personal objective gives you something to work toward every day, a reason to wake up excited about the day. Compare this to how most people approach their day: begrudging the need to go to work, and simply waiting until 5 o’clock when they can lay on the couch and watch Netflix. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. If you approach life this way, things will probably end up ok. It is the 21st century, after all, and you’re unlikely to die suddenly of the scarlet fever, or to be lost on a hunting expedition. But is that really what you want, to end up ok? Do you want to be on your deathbed, thinking about your life, and say to yourself, “it was ok”?

It’s possible to take the tools discussed above and turn them on yourself to clarify your purpose. We spend time clarifying purpose in our professional goals, our financial goals, and even our fitness goals, yet we don’t often clarify our life goals. And the craziest thing about that is that the clearer our life goals are, the more those other types (professional, financial, fitness, etc.) become clear and achievable.

How, then, does one set and achieve personal objectives?

The best way for me to describe how to answer that is to simply use myself as a case study. At the time of posting this article, it has been just about a year since I received the exact advice that I am now giving: to clarify life goals by having an internal OMV discussion. I still have a lot of work to do on my personal objectives, but hopefully this openness about my journey so far helps to make this whole process seem accessible, tangible, and possible.

OMV and Me: A Case Study

In late 2019 I was unhappy with my job. Extremely unhappy. As in, couldn’t-get-to-sleep-at-night unhappy. So, I did what most people would do. I hit the job boards, hard. I was essentially working a second job. 9 to 5 I did my job, 6 to 10 I looked for my next one. But I wasn’t really getting anywhere, because with every new company I talked to, there was a lingering question in the back of my head, “how do I know that I won’t be just as miserable at this company as I am at my current one?”

That was when I got the advice to have an OMV conversation with myself. So I sat myself down, looked me in the eye, and had a heart-to-heart.

Objectives: What would you like that you don’t have?

This is the first question in an OMV discussion, so it’s the first one I asked myself. Throughout the course of the conversation, this question turned into others, such as what would I like to do more of? and what makes me feel fulfilled? I ended up settling on three things that I wanted more available to me in my life:

  • Ability to teach. I’ve always felt happiest and most valuable when I am in front of a whiteboard explaining something. The look of realization on someone’s face as they finally understand is one of the most satisfying things in the world to me.
  • Variety. Call me a Millennial, but I get bored easily. I like being faced with new challenges and different people to interact and build relationships with.
  • Living by principles. I need to be able to bring myself into everything I do, which means being in a place where I am able to live by and act according to my principles.

Measures: How will I know when I have it?

After I had my objectives set, I simply needed to picture achieving them, and write down what that looked like.

Here’s what I pictured for each objective:

  • Ability to teach: Having people in my life that I interact with regularly that respect me enough to listen to what I have to say, especially when it’s not something that they’re familiar or comfortable with. If I’m going to be able to teach, I need to be around people who are willing to learn. And, of course, I saw myself in front of a whiteboard.
  • Variety: Being in a situation where I am regularly working with different organizations, or at least different parts of the same organization. I saw it as getting a consulting job, or a job where I’m able to travel.
  • Living by principles: Feeling that my life outside of work folds in nicely with my work life, feeling proud of what I do, and getting excited at the prospect of a new day or week.

Values: How will I and/or the world benefit?

I asserted that combining teaching with a variety of situations and people would both help me grow as an individual and have a positive impact on the world. As a quick learner who had the privilege of being under some great mentorship through my schooling and my early career, I felt (and still do feel) that I had accumulated some very useful knowledge and developed a potent mindset. Sharing this with a variety of people would test myself, my knowledge, and my mindset, which I would grow from, and it would make it so that others aside from myself could benefit from the exceptional mentorship I’d had.

In addition, living by my principles would ensure all the while that I’m doing this in a respectful, open, honest, and valuable way.

How’d that go?

I applied and interviewed with a level of confidence and clarity that I had never experienced before. Writing cover letters, modifying my resume, calling recruiters, preparing for interviews - it didn’t even feel like work. It felt like I was flying down a water slide where before it had felt like I was swimming in ice water.

However, just as I started hitting my stride, COVID hit. Business slowed down, and hiring slowed down. I was a candidate in a world with too many candidates. Even so, I was able to rustle up four final stage interviews.

And I finished runner-up in every single one. I was devastated.

Falling back on my purpose, I found the courage to continue applying and continue interviewing. But as I kept calling back to my objectives, my measures, and my values, that mental picture inadvertently began to seep into my day job. While working my 9 to 5, I naturally started to create the situation I wanted to see at my current company, without even really trying to.

I started to garner the respect of my colleagues in a way where they would listen when I tried to teach. When an opportunity came up within a different area within the same company, I jumped at the opportunity for variety, and I established a principled work environment.

This wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick. It happened over the course of many months. But the simple matter of aligning myself to a purpose and constantly seeking that purpose elsewhere helped me create a situation where I could achieve my purpose where I was currently at.

And that is the power of finding your why, your personal objectives. I could never have written the script for how this would all play out, but I didn’t have to. I knew where I wanted to get, which gave me the drive to get there, and the question of how to get there became a series of trivial details that I figured out along the way.

If the last year of my life has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t need a plan, but you do need a purpose.

Conclusion

The point of sharing this is not to tout some personal triumph or to pretend that I have it all figured out. In fact, there are still plenty of things that I am still unhappy with, and even more things that I need to continue to work on. Rather, the point is to simply present the experience of someone who committed their life to purpose for a full year, and the results that came with it.

My personal objectives look a lot like professional objectives. That’s because I am a person whose work life and home life overlaps. I make sure that my personal life supports my professional life and vice versa.

However, I find myself curious what someone else’s OMV conversation with themselves might look like. Is it as effective when the objectives aren’t so career-focused?

It’s my honest hope that at least one person will read this article and try committing their life to a purpose, even though it may feel weird and uncomfortable at first. If this is you, please be sure to send me a message letting me know how it goes.

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