Purpose, the motor of organizational transformation: we spoke with Yosi Sergant, Chief Cultural Organizer of TaskForce and Expert at The DO School, to discuss the role of culture in mobilizing employees to drive purposeful DOing.
Could you tell us a little bit about your backstory and what you do at Task Force?
I come from a mixed communications background. I found most of the marketing that I was working on was impersonal, and in my PR work, people were asking for press, but were not doing anything press-worthy. I wanted to do something more compelling. Then I was approached to join the Obama campaign by Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s mentor. As a nonpolitical insider, I never felt invited to participate in the political conversation in a way that was meaningful in my life. I knew that if I felt excluded from the conversation that I probably was not alone. With that in mind, we set out to open that conversation and create a nonpolitical dialogue around politics.
After that, I started Task Force, taking along what I learned on the Obama campaign.
Politics is where some of the people are some of the time. Culture is where we all are all of the time.
At the core of what we believe is that there has never been a social movement built without artists and culture at the tip of social change. We ask ourselves: what would happen if artists were invited in to the process at the beginning? At Task Force, we believe we can accelerate change this way.
What does purpose mean to you on both a personal and professional level?
For me, it’s about intention. I’ve been raised with a sense of “Tikkun olam”, which is a mandate in the Jewish faith for each person to be a part of the reparation of anything that’s broken. There is a certain feeling of worth that comes from doing good work, no matter what it is. At some point, I asked myself, “how much good is my good work doing?”. As the fulfillment from doing good work diminished, I sought fulfillment from purposeful work.
This purposeful work as an individual was separated from who I was as an employee. Once I married these two people, the hole I felt around fulfillment started to be filled. Not only was I doing more purposeful work, but the purpose in my work had also started to match the purpose in my life. Of course, fulfillment and purpose are constantly in flux, but the purposefulness in my work has still not diminished. The more I deepen what exactly purposeful work is for me, the more I need to alter the way I work. It’s important to evolve with that change in order to fulfill your sense of purpose.
How do we mobilize employees to feel this kind of purpose alignment?
The company should shift with its employees all at once. It is not that the purpose of a business should change and then the employees must come along – a real dynamic change shouldn’t feel forced, it should feel organic. This change should be done in unison with employees; they should be part of that process from the beginning.
A popular saying for us in our purpose-driven work is “nothing about us without us.”
You cannot engage in the process of change without involving those who are most affected by that change. In a business, your employees are the ones who are most affected. They are not cogs; they are organic parts of the structure and integral in decision-making processes.
Where should one look when starting a movement with their employees?
Think of the micro-communities within those larger communities or organizations. The easiest approach would be to find people who are already invested in your particular change like environmentalism, for example. If this is not immediately obvious, then find groups that are mission-related, such as gardening groups. Then see how you can create pathways for those people into alignment.
Often times, companies don’t do enough to create culture, communication or interaction with their people. Sometimes it is about creating pools of communication inside of companies. It’s about moving beyond a transactional experience and acknowledging how much time they will be investing alongside you. Map what your employees care about and align it with your organization’s purpose. That is where mobilization around purpose resonates its highest.
Is there a way that you would measure impact in mobilizing employees within a company?
I have not yet found an effective way to do this. I can track reach for a given event that I organize, but culture will never be able to be measured the way marketing is measured. That’s a hard reality for data-driven businesses. In my opinion, we fall short in purposeful work because we try to apply incorrect and temporal measurements to things that should be looked at over the long term. It’s important to remember that some things are worth investing in even if their short-term measurements are not as quick or impactful as the long-term evaluation. “Are they connected to your purpose?” should be the question that you are looking at the deepest.
If I were to look for an indicator, I would look at affinity branding. For example, Coca-Cola brands and measures itself not solely based on purchasing, but also on happiness and the concept of connecting a feeling to a product. This comes with the understanding that if you feel a certain way about the product, then you are more likely to be affected by the marketing of that product in a very different way. And that same kind of marketing can be done within companies and movements. Maybe it’s not measuring the clicks on your website, but the extra hours spent by your employees that week. The way you measure can express a great deal about affinity and purpose alignment, which will have more of an impact than any other call to action in the long run.
What is the common thread connecting movements?
The real goal in this work is when personal purpose, company mission and the whole human can align. A movement is shaped and built by the people internally who are going to be doing the work and externally by the people who are going to be affected by the work. That triangulation is where I tend to see businesses who have employees that are super excited about working there, about the purpose of their work and the business outcomes of the business. Harnessing this alignment helps businesses effectively shift culture and behavior and drive organizational transformation from within.
Complementing his non-profit and policy background, Andrew’s spending the summer with The DO School exploring transformation in the private sector and how companies are creating greater impact in society. When he’s not at work, you can find him whipping up tasty treats and ogling over the coolest dogs at the Boxi farmer’s market.