How to Solve the I Hate My Job Problem

06/02/2015 07:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016

Fifty-one percent of employees are disengaged. Eight years ago, I got a glimpse of how to solve this problem. It happened by accident.

A large pharmaceutical firm hired me and several other consultants to help them better understand how to create great salespeople.

How they went about it was interesting. They gave each one of us several dozen salespeople to study. They said, "We've given each of you a few top salespeople, and we've also given you a bunch of other salespeople. But we're not going to tell you who is who. We want you to interview them, we want you to follow them on sales calls, and then we want you to tell us who you think the top ones are, and, very importantly, why you think they're the top ones.

The pharmaceutical company hoped we might identify some ideas or tactics that they weren't seeing, things that all the salespeople could use.

Near the end of the study, I worked with a sales rep in Phoenix. As she was dropping me off at the airport, we had a few minutes, so I asked her a question that I hadn't asked anyone else. I said, "When you go on sales calls what do you think about?"

I'll never forget her answer. She said, "I always think about one particular patient." She said, "One day, I was standing in a doctor's office waiting to speak to him. I was there, wearing a name badge that had my company's name on it, so I stood out."

"This lady in her 70s came up to me and said, 'Do you work for that drug company?' I said, 'Yes, I do.' She said, 'I just want to tell you that before I took your drug, I couldn't do anything. Now, because of your drug, I can get on a plane, I can visit my grandkids, I can get down on the floor and play with them. I just want to thank you for giving me my life back.'"

"That grandmother," she said, "She's the reason I do my job. She's my higher purpose. When I have a tough day, and it's a rainy Friday afternoon, the others sales reps go home, I don't. I do one more sales call because I might be able to help one more grandmother like her."

In that moment, I realized, we had been looking at the wrong thing. We had been looking at single discrete behaviors. I realized, that thing I now call Noble Purpose, the story in your head and the sense of meaning you attach to your job, is actually what translates into hundreds of behaviors that produce top performance.

I went back through the interview transcripts from the other reps looking for places where purpose was evident. I saw it in the rep who said, "My father was a doctor, and a doctor's life is a lot harder than people think. So I just want to make the doctors life easier." Another rep said, "Science is such a passion of mine, so I love to go into people's offices and share science with them."

All told, I found five representatives who seemed to be talking about purpose. At the end of the study the pharmaceutical company leaders asked me, "Who are the top salespeople in your group?" I said, "These five." I was 100 percent right. And the Arizona woman who talked about giving the life back to the grandmother was the number one representative in the country.

Purpose drives profit, not the other way around. You don't create purpose by making a profit; you make a profit by establishing a Noble Purpose.

Maybe the reason 55 percent of people aren't excited about their jobs is because we haven't given them anybody to get excited about.

Lisa McLeod is the creator of the popular business concept Noble Purpose and author of the bestseller, Selling with Noble Purpose. She is a sales leadership consultant and keynote speaker. Organizations like Genentech, Google, and Kaiser hire her to help them grow revenue.