The Revelation Conversation by Steve Curtin Book Summary

The Revelation Conversation, Inspire Greater Employee Engagement by Connecting to Purpose by Steve Curtin


Employee engagement is on the decline globally, says business consultant Steve Curtin, and organizations must take proactive steps to reengage their people. He warns that disengaged teams cost companies money and often prevent them from achieving their key performance indicators. Curtin urges managers, supervisors and leaders to engage workers by helping them connect to their organizations’ higher purpose. In this engrossing manual, he provides a powerful framework that can help leaders and teams discover their “why.”


  • When employees aren’t driven by purpose, profits suffer.
  • All workers can find meaning in their work.
  • You must clarify your purpose before you can expect your employees to find their purpose.
  • Reflect on your organization’s purpose and values, your team’s goals, and your actions and behavior at work.
  • The “Revelation Conversation” is an informal dialogue that helps employees become purpose-driven.
  • Leaders can motivate employees to embrace desirable behaviors.
  • Connect purposeful behaviors and actions to key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Foster team alignment to create incremental change and growth.
The Revelation Conversation Book Cover

The Revelation Conversation Book Summary

When employees aren’t driven by purpose, profits suffer.

When you find meaning in your work, it is more likely to engage you. Yet your employees experience a frequent sense of disconnection between their jobs and their sense of meaning or purpose. Even though organizations spend time and effort creating their corporate vision, mission and purpose statements, leaders don’t recall or evoke these statements consistently. Thus, they fail to engage employees by connecting their roles to a greater purpose or meaning.

Employee disengagement correlates to increased absenteeism as well as decreased profitability, customer loyalty and productivity. At the corporate level, disengagement can cost a corporation of 10,000 employees averaging a $50,000-per-year salary more than $60 million annually.

Employee engagement around the world is startlingly low: Only 36% of workers in the United States find their jobs engaging. In the Caribbean, Latin America and Southeast Asia, just under 25% of employees are engaged. In Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand, that number stands at roughly 20%, while in North Africa and the Middle East, engaged employees make up only 16% of the workforce.

“Revealing the why, the true purpose of one’s job role, is critical to inspiring greater employee engagement and performance.”

Employees who find no meaning in their work tend to execute only their mandatory, bare-minimum job requirements instead of performing in a purposeful way that captures the essence of their work. For example, a competent bartender who lacks purpose may perform her job functions adequately. But a purpose-driven bartender evinces a positive attitude, shares her knowledge about mixing drinks and helps customers feel welcome.

All workers can find meaning in their work.

People frequently find meaning in jobs that feel like a vocation or “sacred calling.” They carry out their job responsibilities independently, because that makes them happy. Many people find reward, fulfillment and affirmation in jobs that build their careers, especially if they accrue the status that is associated with certain occupations or titles. But many people who hang onto repetitive jobs out of necessity – for example, cashiers or office workers – may lack purpose and satisfaction and can experience negative feelings like boredom and disengagement. When employees are unhappy and resent their employers for failing to meet their needs, their frustration and unhappiness can spread throughout their teams.

“The overwhelming majority of employees come to work to trade their time for compensation. In other words, they have a job – not a calling. And that’s OK. Their work can still be purposeful.”

Visualize an individual’s life as following two concurrent paths. One is horizontal and relates to self-improvement. The other is vertical and relates to self-discovery. As a manager or leader, you can’t direct people on their journey of self-discovery, because a person’s existential quest for meaning is individual and subjective. But you can help employees find a sense of job purpose.

Inspire them to attach a sense of meaning to any role they assume. Aspirational goals, such as “surprise and delight every customer,” can give employees a path to connect to their work’s meaning. Those who work on teams can find purpose in shared, unifying, higher-level team goals.

You must clarify your purpose before you can expect your employees to find their purpose.

Organizations that lack a clear sense of purpose and meaning may focus on such priorities as hitting certain target numbers or profit percentages, resulting in detachment among workers and their teammates.

Many leaders, managers and supervisors feel ambiguous about the purpose of their own jobs, and consequently fail to communicate properly with their employees about theirs. To connect your role and the roles of your team members to a sense of purpose, look beyond the procedures and policies that support job functions. Reflect instead on the “voluntary, relational, people-focused” behaviors that express the essence of a person’s endeavors.

Job purpose is poorly defined – if at all. It is seldom articulated in words, modeled by leadership or intentionally connected to employees’ daily job responsibilities.”

Your purpose in your job should serve as your North Star, reflecting the aspirational reason your role exists. For example, an orthodontist’s job purpose isn’t only to straighten teeth, but also to make beautiful smiles or to give patients confidence. Reflect on the broader purpose of your role. Then help employees align with their roles by connecting a sense of meaning to their work knowledge and skills.

Reflect on your organization’s purpose and values, your team’s goals, and your actions and behavior at work.

An organization must articulate its purpose and answer its own existential questions on a corporate level. As a leader, you can clarify the meaning of your role by reflecting on these four questions:

  1. What is your purpose at work? – Engage in a series of sequential questions to arrive at the “why” of your role. For example, consider hotel housekeepers. To understand their purpose and connect it to their job functions, you might initially define their role as cleaning rooms. But don’t stop there. Question the purpose behind their actions, and reflect on why a housekeeper provides each guest with a clean room. You will likely arrive at the higher purpose of extending hospitality and creating loyal, satisfied customers. 
  2. What values guide your behaviors and actions at work? – Your organization’s core values should reflect the ideals, fundamental beliefs or practices that guide corporate behaviors and inform executive decisions. Reflect on what values support your role and uphold the function and purpose of your team. Some of these values may overlap with your organization’s corporate values. But others will be specific to your team or your role, and those standards should inform your decision-making.
  3. What purposeful behaviors and actions do you demonstrate at work? – Reflect on which of your actions and behaviors bring your articulated values to life. For example, if the grocery store employees responsible for cleaning up identified their jobs’ core values as “responsiveness,” “safety” and “quality,” they’d be likely to react more quickly and efficiently to cleaning up a spill, since they could connect it to purpose-driven values. For example, they can recognize that dry floors decrease the risk of slipping, and thus increase overall safety.
  4. What’s your team’s aspirational goal? – As a manager or leader, don’t focus only on tactical goals. Broaden your focus to include aspirational goals that describe a “desired eventuality” reflecting the pursuit of the higher goal. For example, Patagonia’s aspirational goal, which the company puts forth in its mission statement, is “to save our home planet.”

The “Revelation Conversation” is an informal dialogue that helps employees become purpose-driven.

Help employees understand the why behind their work by using the Revelation Conversation, an informal dialogue and performance management tool that helps leaders, supervisors and managers understand the connection between their job responsibilities and their organization’s broader purpose. A Revelation Conversation has three objectives: Reveal the total number of roles in a worker’s job, including the job’s knowledge, skills and purpose. Connect a worker’s job functions to his or her job purpose. Inspire greater engagement.

“The Revelation Conversation supports leaders and managers in their efforts to demystify job purpose and make it a meaningful part of employees’ work experience.”

Begin with one-on-one conversations, in which you ask employees to describe what they believe their roles to be and what their jobs entail. With each person, engage in an open-ended talk that flows naturally from their responses, keeping your three objectives in mind as you steer the conversation. Once you and your individual employees identify their biggest priorities or job purpose, ask them to identify the behaviors or actions they’ve taken that have helped realize the meaning of their work. 

The Revelation Conversation is designed to be informal – unlike more formal interactions, such as job interviews or performance reviews – and each conversation will be unique. Follow up with each employee to make sure he or she truly understands the purpose of his or her job. Consider asking such questions as, “Have you identified anything we’re doing that contradicts our purpose?” and “Have you thought about anything we can do differently to support our purpose?”

Leaders can motivate employees to embrace desirable behaviors.

You can create a working environment that supports a higher purpose. While you can’t mandate certain behaviors, such as connecting with customers by making eye contact and smiling, you can inspire people to practice these behaviors voluntarily. When you try to force your employees into behaviors that align with your organizational purpose, the results – phony enthusiasm or insincere compliments – can turn out to be awkward or uncomfortable for everyone involved.

“Managing behaviors differs from managing actions. Behavior is more subjective; it cannot be mandated in the same way as actions.”

Instead, model an engaging work ethic for your team by demonstrating purpose-driven behaviors. But be aware that if you embody your job purpose inconsistently, your employees will be inconsistent, too. Be conscious of the messages you give through your actions, and recognize team members who connect their actions to their purpose. According to research from Gallup, 65% of workers in the United States report that they received no feedback about their performance from their supervisors over the course of an entire year.

Consider initiating team huddles or meetings before shifts begin. Use that opportunity to recognize team members whose performance you want others to emulate. Encourage people to reflect on the purposeful behaviors they witness. This reinforces their learning, encourages them to value their contribution, boosts their competency, and heightens their awareness of and attention to detail.

Connect purposeful behaviors and actions to key performance indicators (KPIs).

Few corporations bother creating metrics that quantify the details of employee-customer interactions – such as how often workers introduce themselves to customers.However, such details often prove crucial to your company’s success. Research shows that if customers can recall the names of employees who serve them, their “overall satisfaction” shoots up 20%. These small, meaningful actions help you create loyal customers and hit key performance indicators (KPIs) such as repurchase rates.

“Without a connection, loyalty seldom occurs. And customers do not connect with a nameless person.”

Quantify how much “leading indicators” – purposeful actions that can trigger future success – positively influence parallel “lagging indicators,” such as KPIs that measure past performance. Identify the KPIs that align with your organization’s priorities, and capture feedback that clarifies purposeful behaviors or actions that help you reach your target KPIs. Keep records of your leading indicators. Enlist employees to track the frequency with which they perform these behaviors and actions. Share priorities with your team frequently – ideally, several times a day. Measure the frequency of leading indicators, correlate improvements to your lagging indicators and evaluate your results. Change your approach if you don’t achieve your KPIs, and celebrate your wins when you do.

Foster team alignment to create incremental change and growth.

To build momentum and progress toward your firm’s goals, create team alignment. When teams align, members become more engaged, show more interest in their work, ask more questions, and participate with team spirit and commitment.

“Lack of alignment is the Achilles’ heel of corporate improvement campaigns, specifically, a lack of alignment between the priorities, expectations, and resources of leadership and those of various stakeholders.”

To help your team members connect to your corporate mission, purpose and vision, develop a team “rallying cry,” an anthem or motto that distills your ambitions and beliefs into a single phrase. Your rallying cry should be short and should begin with an action word. For example, Apple’s rallying cry is “Think Different.” 

Create a work environment that inspires people to fulfill their roles. Embrace incremental change. Making small improvements every day can lead your company toward achieving purpose-driven, long-term success.

About the Author

Steve Curtin

Speaker and consultant Steve Curtin also wrote Delight Your Customers7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

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