Lead with Purpose
Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself
By John Baldoni
Copyright © 2012 John Baldoni
All right reserved.
Chapter One Lead for Purpose
"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him."
The mood in the room seemed to match the mood outside; it was a cold and overcast October morning. Talk was subdued and dark humor prevailed. The managers had gathered for a scenario planning session that I was helping to facilitate, but it was easy to tell that their minds were elsewhere. The media were reporting that this company was about to be bought by a competitor, so many in the room were feeling that any talk about the future, let alone talk of today, was moot.
The mood changed as soon as their boss, a vice president, rose to speak. He addressed the issue of the day and said that he had no further information to share. But he sympathized with how people were feeling, and he offered to meet with them and their teams anytime they asked. He then challenged the group to focus on why they had gathered. He wanted them to shift from thinking about what they could not do to what they could do. Right now, that thinking was to focus on the immediate future.
The vice president did what all good leaders facing a crisis, or any serious problem, must do: Give the group a reason to believe. He did not dispense false hope, but he gave them something more powerful: purpose. When a group has purpose, its members will work together; they will pull together to make things happen. Purpose is the guiding beacon of every successful organization.
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The beauty of the American management model is that it is based on action. That is why the model is emulated throughout the world: Americans know how to get things done. But sometimes getting things done happens at the expense of forethought. In their book The India Way, the authors, two Americans and two Indians, discuss one of the pillars of the Indian way that they label "holistic employee engagement." 1 Central to engagement is purpose: People have to know what they are doing and why they are being asked to do it.
How to Discover Organizational Purpose
Purpose shapes vision, which, quite simply, is where you want to go. Vision is the lodestar that shines in the distance and serves as a guiding light. Vision is the process of becoming; organizationally, it is like saying what you want to be when you grow up. Very often, vision opens with an infinitive verb: to be. This is expressed as "to be number one," "to be the most respected," "to be the one of choice," and so on. It is aspirational in nature.
Mission is what the organization does. It is purpose expressed as action. It is the what, why, and how of an organization: what it does, why it does it, and how it does it. For example, a mission statement for a bakery might focus on making bread and pastries with high-quality ingredients in an artisan style for customers seeking authentic flavor. Reading this statement, you discern purpose.
Values are what hold people together. They embody the beliefs by which people in the organization choose to abide. Take a hospital. Its values define the respect that employees must manifest toward patients as well as toward each other. Words like dignity, ethics, and respect are prevalent. Values, when they are implemented, become measures by which people hold each other accountable. The end of this chapter contains a guide to defining purpose.
Taken together, vision, mission, and values underscore the culture, the glue of an organization. While the concept of culture is broad and deep, when it comes to purpose, we can be very direct and to the point. Quite simply, culture is what the employees perceive as reality inside their organizations. It can be open, tolerant, and flexible, or it can be closed, intolerant, and rigid. Culture does not depend on purpose, but it is greatly influenced by it. Open cultures nurture purpose as if it were mutable and alive; closed cultures regard it as defined and inorganic.
Along with culture, corporate vision, mission, and values are essential to framing purpose, but they are only a starting point. Employees need to internalize them so that they are relevant. Something can become relevant only if it is understood, and that is where the manager comes into play. It falls to the manager to make the culture real. How he or she does this is central to the concept of purpose.
So, how does a manager make purpose relevant? Link it to the work! For some organizations, such as the bakery just mentioned, this is easy. Make the dough, bake the goods, sell to customers, and watch them come back for more. Okay, how do you make purpose relevant if you are the distribution manager for a pipe supply company? You work with spreadsheets and you field phone calls from internal and external customers. How do you discuss purpose? You explain to your employees that logistics are the linchpin of the pipe supply operation. If distribution does not gather and warehouse pipe products from the factory or other sources, you have nothing to sell. If you cannot identify and ship products in a timely fashion, customers cannot buy. How you iterate this is critical to purpose.
Expression of purpose may begin with words—chiefly, explanations of what the organization does and why it does it. But words go only so far. Purpose, if it is to be sustainable, must be linked to organizational culture and values. That is vital. Here are some ways to reinforce this connection.
"Purpose comes down to having clear-cut, definite goals," says Pat Williams, bestselling leadership author. "They are powerful motivating forces. Those goals have to be out in front of the organization. They've got to be written down [as well as] reminded and reviewed." Regarding the Orlando Magic, the NBA team where Williams serves as a senior vice president, "We talk about two things all the time: winning a championship and keeping every seat full. No one in the organization can miss that."
Putting people first, says Michelle Rhee, onetime chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school district, "is about creating a culture that constantly recognizes people for the work they're doing." That requires the involvement of a leader who "ensures that people's voices are heard."
Purpose in education is a straightforward proposition for Rhee. It stems from doing "what's right and good for kids." It was a mantra she took personally and one that she preached throughout the community. That kind of clarity is something that every leader in any field should strive to drive throughout their organization. Reducing purpose to a simple statement is not easy, but it can be a valuable tool in clarifying intention for employees.
While working in another job prior to running the D.C. school district, Rhee learned that creating the right culture depends on doing the little things that matter to people—for example, being accessible to the CEO. It is important, says Rhee, that people have a voice with the leader at the top. "I think oftentimes it's the smaller things that feel more personalized that make people feel valued and recognized." When serving as chancellor of the school district, Rhee made a habit of reaching out regularly to all levels of the organization. She would personally call a principal or a teacher and thank the individual for the good work he or she was doing.
Dangers of Having No Purpose
Purpose may seem elusive, and it may be tempting to abandon the concept altogether, but consider the alternative: lack of purpose. This leads to organizational listlessness. People may be doing their individual jobs appropriately, but soon each will come to the realization that individual contributions are good, but not great. What is necessary is to get people to pull together for the common cause.
"I don't think you can hit purpose enough as a senior leader," says George Reed, a retired Army colonel who consults in the corporate sector. "It is one of those things that can be undercommunicated by an order of magnitude. You cannot oversell, overpronounce 'Here's why we're here.'" If purpose is not communicated, Reed believes, it will be lost in the "urgencies of the day" that cause people to forget their original intentions and their passion. "The senior leader who bangs that drum, who serves as the symbolic voice of the organization ... reminds their people that what they're doing is important."
Leaders Drive Purpose
It falls to the leader to ensure that employees know what makes the organization tick. Only a leader who knows him- or herself can do this effectively. Consider what your own purpose is. One question that I often use in my executive coaching is a time-honored one: What gets you up in the morning?
So often this question serves as an icebreaker. I have seen an executive's eyes light up when asked. It gives the individual the opportunity to talk about what he or she likes to do and why. Many of the folks I have the privilege of coaching become very animated telling me about what excites them about their work. For many, it is the opportunity to do what they have always wanted to do. Engineers love solving problems, so that's a common response. Finance people talk about the joy of a disciplined balance sheet. Senior managers speak about the satisfaction they feel at seeing all the parts of an organization functioning in harmony.
What these folks are addressing is individual purpose. In organizations, leaders define the meaning of purpose as "doing something for others." Here are two questions leaders can use to clarify purpose:
1. Why does my team need to know about purpose? This is the number one question. You need to answer it for yourself first and then explain it to your team. For example, if you are in finance, what makes your work purposeful? This becomes an opportunity to link your team's functional expertise. You are responsible for maintaining cash flow as well as providing guidance for planning decisions. How you explain that to your team will go a long way toward their understanding the implications of their work.
2. How can I make purpose more relevant to my team? Your team is looking to you for answers, so you need to make purpose explicit. The easy way to do this is to explain how the work your team does contributes to the smooth running of the organization. A better way is to tell stories about the work. Consider how your customers judge your work. You likely have examples of success that are worth sharing. Returning to our finance example, talk about how one of your colleagues complimented your team on making the budgeting process easier to understand, allowing him to complete the planning process in a more timely fashion.
These two questions quantify the role a leader plays in determining the purpose and meaning of work for the team. Many people, however, are searching for deeper meaning, satisfaction, enrichment, and happiness. While these may be existential issues, answers can be found in purposeful work. Let's take them one at a time.
We want to know that our work matters to others—customers, colleagues, and managers. Consider meaning as the substance of what we do that has an impact on others. One thought that kept Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned by the Nazis in a concentration camp, alive was his desire to see his life's work published on a form of therapy he called logotherapy. This determination forms the background of his book, Man's Search for Meaning, which chronicles his quest to ensure that extreme deprivation, suffering, and violence suffered by inmates such as himself had meaning.
Compensation provides the floorboard for job satisfaction. In October 2009, a study by McKinsey & Company revealed that six in ten employees regarded performance-based compensation as "extremely" or "very" effective. Just over 50 percent said that increases in base pay were as effective. (Only 35% found stock or stock options effective. People seem to want real money, not "maybe money.")
As it relates to purpose, managers need to find ways to compensate their team fairly. Research has consistently shown that money is more of a satisfier than a motivator. Too little compensation is a demotivator, but lots of money does not ensure higher levels of engagement or effort.
Finding proper ways to motivate your team is essential, but so often managers forget that what people really want is recognition. This same McKinsey & Company study showed that the satisfaction employees seek from their jobs is more than just money. Two-thirds surveyed said that "praise and commendation from an immediate manager" was extremely effective, and over 60 percent said that "attention from leaders" was also effective. Buttressing the data is the fact that 62 percent surveyed said that a strong motivator was "opportunities to lead projects or task forces." Compensation is essential, but emotional satisfiers are more rewarding.
The upshot of these findings is that managers need to find ways to recognize their employees' contributions. As regards purpose, it falls to managers to allow their people more opportunities to lead by delegating not simply responsibility but also authority. Those who accept the challenge and prove themselves are the future leaders of the organization.
Researchers believe that emotions, particularly happiness, can be the result of the collective condition of people around you. "Your happiness depends not just on your choices and actions, but also on the choices and actions of people you don't even know who are one, two and three degrees removed from you," said Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a physician and social scientist at Harvard Medical School. "Emotions have a collective existence—they are not just an individual phenomenon." These conclusions result from a study coauthored by Dr. Christakis and James Fowler that analyzed the happiness levels of over 4,700 participants in the famous Framingham heart study.
The implications for managers are clear. Managers can have an effect on how their employees feel at work. Most important, it falls to them to create conditions where employees can succeed. Managers do this by providing training and resources for employees to do their jobs, along with adequate time to do the work. Experience tells us that time and resources are often in short supply, but managers can help overcome such shortages through open and honest communication: Tell employees what they have to work with and how long they have to complete the job. Setting realistic expectations is essential.
How a manager communicates is critical to employee happiness. When conditions are tough, managers should be realistic but resolve to spread good cheer. Talk about what employees are working on and how well you regard each employee's contribution. Help each person understand his or her particular role. Managers who are in the habit of looking at the bright side will position work as something positive. Likewise, happiness reinforces a sense of purpose because people like coming to work, want to be with their colleagues, and aspire to do a good job. It makes them feel good.
How to Instill Purpose at Work
Mission is essential to accountability, says Jim Guest, President and CEO of Consumers Union. "It helps to be working for a mission-driven organization where people can really embrace and take great pride and satisfaction in the mission and what they are doing to advance it." Guest adds, "We really do feel we're working to make society better, or to make people's lives better." For Guest, accountability depends on being trustworthy. His commitment to the organization is, as he says, in his DNA. "I believe in being open and honest." As a colleague puts it, "Jim rolls up his sleeves"; he is transparent because people can see exactly what he is up to. This fosters a high degree of trust as well as followership.
Excerpted from Lead with Purpose by John Baldoni Copyright © 2012 by John Baldoni. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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