Leveraging the power of purpose

By Gale Mote / Guest Editorial

Managers and team leaders frequently ask me, “How do I keep employees motivated and inspired? How do I get them to care? How do I gain their commitment so they consistently demonstrate a sense of pride and ownership?”

The best answer to those questions is to define, communicate, recognize and celebrate a sense of purpose.

Why is purpose so important? I believe too many employees assess their value to an organization by the size of their paycheck or the title under their name. Unfortunately, this is a really bad way to build self-esteem and self-confidence. When budgets are tight, everyone turns into a bunch of losers. High-performance organizations instead create a work environment where everyone counts and everyone cares.

Scientific research affirms the power of purpose. In his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” author Daniel Pink identifies three powerful intrinsic motivators for today’s workforce: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Dr. Martin Seligman, who has spent years researching the components of happiness, found those to include pleasure, engagement and meaning – all of which contribute to outstanding business results in any number of metrics.

Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” explains that irrelevance causes employees to become disengaged. When they do not see or feel their work matters to anyone, employees begin to believe themselves to be a cog in a wheel that goes round and round without making a difference. As a result, they give minimum effort and keep their eyes open for a job that may provide more fulfillment. Loyalty and commitment is lost.

A sense of purpose answers the powerful question, “why?” Why is this role important? Why am I the right person for this job? Why do I do what I do? Why does my work matter? Why do I make a difference?

Leaders who inspire their employees think, act and communicate very differently from those who do not. Author Simon Sinek writes about that secret sauce in his book, “Start with Why.” He refers to it as the “golden circle,” which is like a bullseye target with ‘why’ in the center, ‘how’ in the next ring and ‘what’ on the outer edge. Everything begins with a sense of purpose and belief about why we exist. Employees must be able to see how they directly relate to that cause. Understanding why creates a cohesive sense of team identity – we are all in!

As an example, I once worked with a company that made heavy-duty industrial mining equipment. The what was “we manufacture mining equipment.” The how was “the best quality, the highest value.” The why was “we make sure that moms and dads go home to their families every night.” I learned this when I asked a front-line welder about the purpose of his work, or why he did what he did; to my surprise, he started with the why. Obviously, the leadership in that organization understood how to inspire, build commitment and create emotional energy.

Some simple steps are all it takes to benefit from the power of purpose in your organization. First, begin by defining the why. Here’s a hint: It can’t be about financial statements or corporate rankings.

Author Jim Collins referred to this in “Built to Last” as a core ideology. It must be authentic, and an organization must maintain consistent alignment around its core values. Examples include Merck (“We are in the business of preserving and improving human life”), Nordstrom (“Service to the customer above all else”) and Walt Disney (“To bring happiness to millions”).

Next, engage in frequent communications around your purpose. Help every employee see how their contribution helps the company live the dream.

For example, when a server is frustrated over the mess guests left in their booth, remind them that the restaurant is a place where people come to relax and celebrate their special moments. Sure, they might drop some food on the floor and not put the menu back in the right place, but it doesn’t matter – the purpose of the business is to create a place for them to come and enjoy themselves. When you help them have a positive, memorable experience, you fulfill your establishment’s purpose. And hopefully, they will come back and tell a few friends.

When coaching and providing recognition, always tie the dialogue back to the purpose. Consider this bit of reinforcement: “I saw what you did and here is why and how it matters. You are an essential piece. Imagine if we did not have you performing this role in the best possible way – who would be impacted? How might it negatively impact our customers, team members and community?”

Share customer feedback and success stories with the entire organization. Take field trips so that employees actually see and observe the fruits of their labor. Celebrate those actions and behaviors that most consistently demonstrate who you are and why you exist.

If you want to do a quick assessment, make the rounds and ask employees at all levels why their work is important to the company. How do they make a difference? See how many of them respond with an answer that is consistent with the purpose of your organization. If not, get to work connecting the dots and sharing the why.




Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at galemote@galemoteassociates.com.