Finding Your Why in the Workplace

By Deb Hamm, Vice President, People, Culture and Operations

If ever there was a time for change, it is now.

The past two years of uncertainty have transformed how we live and work. With that transformation comes the unprecedented opportunity for self-reflection. Forced to hit the collective pause button, we find ourselves in a place in time like no other to re-evaluate our purpose, and re-think why we do what we do.

The “Great Resignation” is one result of that re-evaluation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 38 million Americans quit their jobs last year. In the September 2021 issue of the Harvard Business Review, a detailed analysis of this trend revealed that resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees (those between 30-44) and have been particularly high in the tech and healthcare industries—both of which have been inundated with demand during the pandemic.

While many theories have been posited about the cause of this trend, one common thread is our collective search for balance, purpose, and meaning in our careers.

Finding Your Why

The notion of defining purpose—the why that truly unifies and motivates our actions—is nothing new. Simon Sinek has made a career out of artfully speaking and writing about this topic in the business space with best-selling books such as Start with Why which came out in 2009.

While being skilled at the tasks required by our job is satisfying, it is not why we do what we do.

Whether in business or in life, our “why” needs to be big enough to carry us through the good times and bad. The days when everything just seems to flow, and those days that feel like the world is just a set of unfair obstacles to overcome.

So, while being skilled at the tasks required by our job is satisfying, it is not why we do what we do.

When asked about performing one of her favorite pieces (Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”), world-renowned violinist Hilary Hahn did not describe the technical perfection of performing it. Instead, she described it as “all of art in one place: nature, music, poetry, imagery and imagination. It lifts you immediately out of your seat, out of the space you’re in, and carries you through the ether, through intense emotions.”

She does not perform to be technically proficient, and it is not her flawless performance that makes her great. It is her ability to move people’s hearts.

Similarly, while the skills necessary to be successful in a chosen field are important, they are not the reason for success. For commercial real estate professionals, attention to detail and the ability to deliver exceptional service that anticipates needs are critical skills. But most people’s success comes from additional foundational motivations. The skills (while important) are simply the inevitable outcome of pursuing a clearly defined purpose that transcends job proficiency.

According to an April report published by McKinsey & Company, employees expect their jobs to bring them a sense of purpose. And if employers do not help them meet this need, they will lose talent to companies that do. When your team is motivated by something bigger than a paycheck, they are likely to be more productive, innovative, and resilient to change. The first step in helping your employees find their “why” is to demonstrate that purpose has value to your organization by defining what it is for you. In doing so, your team can find themselves in that larger purpose and align their personal and professional goals with that shared vision.

A Shared Vision Creates Opportunity

The pursuit and definition of a clearly articulated purpose has a transformative effect on organizations. At PPM, we have attracted and retained highly talented and diverse professionals across the country during some of the most uncertain and demanding times in our industry.

The very concept of how we work was upended and PPM pivoted to adjust our services to help clients re-define their workplace. In doing so, we refined our purpose to unlock the potential of people in everything we do—for our clients and for our own team. This has led to a corporate culture that embraces resourcefulness, connectedness, agility, and creativity. And we have done it largely by not relying on traditional CRE talent pipelines.

Many members of our national team came to PPM and the CRE industry from unrelated backgrounds with highly transferrable skills, a shared passion for service, and a keen ability to navigate constantly shifting priorities. Some of the professional backgrounds that have thrived in our people-centric approach to program management include healthcare, retail, restaurant and hospitality, as well as community organizing with former PTA presidents and volunteers from local youth sports leagues.

Across our 140+ nationwide employees, we find those who are invested in delivering meaningful results for the company and our clients often have backgrounds and talent that were forged both within and outside of commercial real estate. What they have in common, is not their resume as much as it is a shared passion for helping people realize their potential.

Because we are able to attract and retain people from such diverse professional backgrounds who find themselves in the shared purpose of unlocking potential, we are also able to build out a team that truly represents our clients. Thirty-five percent of our team is from traditionally underrepresented communities in CRE and females represent 63% of our leadership in an industry that has historically been male dominated. These numbers reflect the clients and communities we serve. Our diversity is one of our superpowers and it shows up every day in how we deliver on our purpose.

In addition, by embracing our “why”, we have also been able to provide opportunities for people within PPM to advance their careers and try new things. We often see team members move across corporate divisions to take on new challenges and responsibilities. It is not uncommon for people to explore other career paths outside of our firm only to return a handful of months later with new-found appreciation for the creative opportunities a shared purpose can bring to them personally and professionally. Still others transfer to different locations across the country to explore new adventures for themselves and their families.

Lastly, the clear unifying strength of our purpose has inspired PPM to consistently give back to the communities we serve.

The company participates in numerous fundraising events such as the Fred Hutch Obliteride and volunteers time with agencies such as Mary’s Place. On the direct funding side, the company donates one percent of its annual revenue to non-profit organizations that serve PPM’s direct communities and other areas of need. PPM has contributed in excess of $1.06 million to more than 120 non-profits over its 12-year history. And on Juneteenth, PPM donates all profits earned to Langston House in Seattle and Harlem Children’s Network in New York City.

If Not Now, When?

The time has never been more right to embrace a search for your “why.” A company that can lead with a strong vision will be able to attract diverse, talented people passionate about the mission. With that vision, leadership is then also better positioned to receive and respond to critical and productive feedback from team members. The firm can better navigate uncertainty as it is anchored to a larger purpose. And above all, a clear purpose can make a difference in the lives of people and the communities where we live, work, and hopefully, thrive.


Deb Hamm is PPM’s Vice President of People, Culture, and Operations. She is a results-oriented, optimistic human resources leader who believes in our ability to build together and inspire people to do what inspires them, giving all of us the opportunity to achieve and deliver exceptional business and personal results.