by Derek Irvine

Recognise This! – A priority responsibility for executives is establishing and communicating clear purpose for all employees.

Earlier this week I used a New York Times “Corner Office” column as an inspiration for a post on Compensation Café. Then yesterday, team member Brenda Pohlman postedabout the importance of recognition to all employees, yes, even executives.

The combination inspired me to go back to my reader and see what other recent “Corner Office” columns and wisdom I may have missed. So today, I share two reasons why establishing and communicating a clear purpose is a vital job of the person in the executive chair.

First up, Kat Cole, president of Cinnabon, tells about opening new restaurant locations around the world and rallying team members to help achieve successful launches quickly. She says:

“I did many openings after that, and every time it was a different team and a different culture, and I had to earn their trust within hours and rally them around a common goal. I would get them coffee and doughnuts in the morning, and I would start out by talking about why we’re here and asking questions: ‘What do you think this is going to be like? What do you think I should know?’ And I really wanted to know what I should know. Then, throughout the day, I would pull people aside and say: ‘How’s it going? What do you think we could do differently?’”

From Ms. Cole, we see the importance of seeking input from everyone in establishing the purpose, then checking in to make sure everyone is contributing to the purpose and making adjustments along the way.

David Kenny, C.E.O. of the Weather Company (parent of the Weather Channel and Weather Underground), neatly explains the importance of a clear purpose in a fast-moving environment (and what workplace isn’t fast-moving in today’s world).

“One [early leadership lesson] came during my years at Bain, the consulting firm. I’m a big believer in velocity. You have to move fast because the world is moving fast. But some people felt that velocity was just chaos, because it didn’t have a purpose. So I learned to be clearer about what we were trying to accomplish. I still work on that. My mind goes really fast and sometimes I’ll know exactly where we want to go, but I don’t have everybody else seeing it. Speed without a purpose is chaos. Velocity is speed toward a purpose.”

Without a purpose to strive to achieve, we’re all just spinning our wheels. And that is very frustrating, de-motivating and, in the end, disengaging. Time and again, we’ve seen the importance of purpose – a deeper meaning to our work – as a critical driver of employee engagement. So be sure people know the purpose.

One of the easiest ways of doing that is through timely, specific recognition. When someone achieves a milestone or contributes to the bigger purpose in an exceptional way, recognise them for it. But do so in a way that explicitly links their achievement to the purpose. For example, “Tom, you know our goal is to achieve a 10% improvement in customer satisfaction scores this quarter. The way you handled the customer interaction yesterday is clear proof of your commitment to achieving that goal. It wasn’t an easy transaction, but you managed every moment in an honest, forthright and understanding way, positioning our relationship for nothing but growth. Well done and thank you!”

Such specific recognition clearly reiterates the greater goal while reminding the recipient of his or her individual efforts contribute to it in a meaningful way.

What’s the best way to communicate and reinforce “purpose?” How do you make sure your team members understand the greater purpose of your efforts?