In 2014, Aaron Hurst’s book, The Purpose Economy, brought the idea of purpose front and center for business, launching a revolution of sorts in how we think about personal, professional, and organizational purpose. Hurst had previously founded the Taproot Foundation, a network he set up to connect social change organizations with business professionals willing to donate time and expertise to build capacity. Hurst is a key figure in the modern purpose story, so this episode’s conversation with Chris Pirie from Learning Futures Group and Stacia Garr from RedThread Research is the perfect place to start the season’s journey toward finding out if purpose really is working.
Why Hurst founded Taproot — then moved on
We first hear about the personal and family journey that is the basis for all Hurst’s work, including what he’s doing with his new peer coaching platform, Imperative. We then explore the frustrations that led him to move on from pro bono work: a recognition that people need to feel a purpose in what they do at work; too many are “driving blind” because they can’t get to one; and that purpose needs to be systematically integrated into the flow of work.
Purpose does not equal supporting social causes
Purpose is set to become what creates value for people as employees and consumers, as well as sparking loyalty to organizations and brands. It is also, we learn, not to be confused with merely supporting good causes — and actually much more about new insights into human psychology and deep needs we all have. (Think, more autonomy = more sense of purpose.)
What does HR need to do?
All these shifts have big implications for HR and talent management. There certainly is a need for new metrics on how to measure purpose’s success in the workplace (and Hurst has some key messages for leaders, especially not just tracking growth, but also relationships and impact — as he does for HR and what its opportunity is with purpose).
Will purpose survive the pandemic?
The conversation stress-tests some of Hurst’s ideas against COVID, the gig economy, and other realities: deciding what’s real and what’s not can be tricky right now. Then, we ask the key question of the episode: how does purpose specifically connect to workplace learning? This requires a shift in organizational mindsets away from command-and-control thinking and the idea of optimizing human “resources” towards helping people as human beings.
The purpose bottom-line for Learning & Development as a practice
L&D’s role here could be as a key part of the change management process, we decide —getting organizations into this new mindset. A core concept here: L&D can act as a builder and embracer of a coaching and learning culture that supports continuous employee growth and development. Conclusion: It’s time to retire talk of “hard” versus “soft” skills — and move to teaching human skills instead.
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