On Purpose and Thriving: Andy Swann Q+A (Part 1)

July 7, 2016 Sarah Payne

Andy SwannWhat drives community and purpose at work? How can we affect change without losing sight of our people? And why do some people seem to flourish at work while others flounder?

These are some of the philosophical questions about work that Workhuman speaker Andy Swann investigates. And as someone who has worked in a myriad of jobs—from journalism, to management, business ownership, recruitment, and bar work—he certainly has a wealth of experience to draw from.

Andy is Change Maker at BDG architecture + design and founder of All About People, a unique event that explores how people and organizations thrive. He’s also a thoughtful writer. Check out his wrap up WorkHuman 2016 in the Medium piece, “How to be a Human.”

Check out the first part of our Q&A with Andy below.


At WorkHuman, you talked about organizational purpose. How does an organization find its purpose? And why does it matter?

I spent a year exploring our relationship with work and organizations via The Work Project. I came to realize that organizations in their simplest form are platforms for people to thrive, because when people thrive, organizations thrive too. The fastest growing and most successful organizations have a clear purpose driving their business.

“Organizations in their simplest form are platforms for people to thrive.” @andyswann #workhuman
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The task for any organization is to create a user experience that forms a community of people (customers, employees – they’re all people!) around it. Communities are bound by a common identity – a purpose. Whether it’s a belief, a faith, a goal, a location, the strongest communities are the ones bound by the strongest glue. For organizations, this glue is a clearly defined purpose. ‘Purpose’ is literally the reason why you do what you do, so without purpose there is no point!

It’s impossible to form strong, loyal communities without a shared goal, so it’s equally impossible to form strong organizations without a clearly defined purpose that people can buy into, identify with, or congregate around. It gives them a reason to align with that organization as opposed to another. If you can’t give me a reason to work for you or buy from you, why would I do either?!

Organizational purpose shouldn’t be confused with individual purpose and it’s that realization that’s driving me to re-boot The Work Project in a new, more personal exploration – How to be a Human. It’s inspired by some huge realizations I had at WorkHuman and I’m kicking that off very soon.


 What’s one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I play drums and until recently was in a ‘dirty rock and roll blues’ band called The Social, until our bassist deserted us! If you hunt carefully on YouTube you’ll find some videos of us covering “Shakin All Over” and “Roadhouse Blues.”


What do you think makes people thrive at work?

I love this question and I could answer it in so many ways! A reason to be there—individually and collectively—is essential, because you can’t motivate yourself to do something you have no reason to be doing (and you shouldn’t try to, either!). Then it’s a simple combination of the right people, in the right place, taking the right actions, bound by communication and enabled by technology!

After much searching, I discovered that there are a range of things that make me thrive—belonging, freedom, trust, creativity, environment—but without the motivation, other factors mean nothing. If people aren’t connected to their work in some way, they will never thrive. That’s why I do the work I do—to help create that connection for others to help them succeed in many different ways.

“If people aren’t connected to their work…they will never thrive.” @andyswann #workhuman
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Can you tell us a bit about your day job as Change Maker at BDG architecture + design?

BDG designs amazing workplaces, starting with an understanding of the organization and their people. Who those people are and how they work best individually and together informs the design process. I love this approach! My role is to create change programs that focus on the people. Change affects us all on many levels and even in the most bespoke, beautiful environment, there’s a psychological and deeply personal impact around any change.

I use a range of methods that touch on positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, creative exploration, and more to help connect people with their work, workplace, and each other. The service I have created for BDG can run parallel to their design and build process, or as a standalone to support any organization where a change in the workplace (physical, structural, cultural, or any other) could create impact.

It was a privilege to be invited to create the approach for BDG and by trusting me to develop it in my own way, they proved why it’s such a great place for me to be! We work with organizations across the world, including global brands, and I’m always excited to discover the behavioral and cultural traits that come into the mix on any project. I love the opening conversations too—finding out about organizations, their people, and their workplaces is a hobby of mine.

On Purpose and Thriving: Q+A with @andyswann (Part 1) #workhuman
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Stay tuned for the second part of our Q&A with Andy next week!