Finding a Business Purpose

The more I speak with people working hard in organizations, the less I see a “9 to 5” mentality. As work evolves in the 21st century, separating our professional and personal lives proves to be an artificial divide. Your personal purpose influences your work purpose, and vice versa.

A company’s purpose starts with its leaders and works its way through the organization. It shows up in products, services, and employee and customer experiences.

An inspirational purpose often lies hidden within an organization. The following suggestions will help you identify and articulate key elements:

  1. Revisit your organization’s heritage (past history).
  2. Review successes. At what does the business excel?
  3. Start asking “why?”
  4. What won’t your organization do? Review false starts and failures.
  5. Talk to employees.
  6. Talk to top leaders.
  7. Talk to high performers.
  8. Talk to customers.
  9. Follow your heart.

Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your calling. ~ Aristotle

A purpose is informed by the world’s needs. When you build an organization with a concrete purpose in mind – one that fills a real need in the marketplace – performance will follow.

Ask the following questions:

  • Why does your organization do what it does?
  • Why is this important to the people you serve?
  • Why does your organization’s existence matter?
  • What is its functional benefit to customers and constituents?
  • What is the emotional benefit to them?
  • What is the ultimate value to your customer?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • At what can you excel?
  • What drives your economic engine?
    • Mission statements used to have a purpose. The purpose was to force management to make hard decisions about what the company stood for. A hard decision means giving up one thing to get another. ~ Seth Godin, marketing expert

Energy and Creative Flow

Having a purpose provides context for all of one’s efforts, and it’s a chief criterion for “flow” – the energy state that occurs when one’s mind, body and entire being are committed to the task at hand. Flow turns mundane work into completely absorbing experiences, allowing us to push the limits of skills and talents.

Flow and commitment also create healthier, happier employees, while driving innovative thinking. To tap into full engagement, leaders must clearly identify and articulate what truly matters to the company:

  • Why are we in business?
  • What difference do we want to make in the world?
  • What’s our most important purpose?
    • On some level, everyone wants to live a purposeful life, yet we are distracted by societal pressures to achieve wealth and prestige. There are indications, however, that this is changing. Just as GNP fails to reflect the well-being and satisfaction of a country’s citizens, a person’s net worth actually has little to do with personal fulfillment.

      It is difficult to impossible to truly inspire the creators of customer happiness – the employees – with the ethic of profit maximization? It is my experience that employees can get very excited and inspired by a business that has an important business purpose. ~ John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market

      Leadership starts on a personal level and permeates one’s function in a company, community and society. While countless books address the importance of finding personal purpose, how does it play out within an organizational context? How do you link your personal purpose and values to those of your company?

      It may seem that parts of your job are mundane and insignificant. Perhaps your organization hasn’t articulated their purpose, vision and values clearly enough. I see this happen frequently in the organizations where I’m called on to contribute workshops or Healthcare Coaching.

      What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.

Is Your Work Fulfilling?

In a company without purpose, people have only a vague idea of what they’re supposed to do. There’s always activity and busyness, but it’s often frenetic, disorganized and focused solely on short-term goals. There’s a lack of direction and commitment to purpose.

Top executives erroneously look to the competition when making decisions, rather than making up their own minds about what really matters. This lack of clarity leads to poor business decisions and failed product launches. Employees who work without purpose experience the consequences.

“Across organizations, nearly every survey suggests that the vast majority of employees don’t feel fully engaged at work, valued for their contributions, or freed and trusted to do what they do best,” reports Tony Schwartz in a recent HBR.org blog post. “Instead, they feel weighed down by multiple demands and distractions, and they often don’t derive much meaning or satisfaction from their work. That’s a tragedy for millions of people and a huge lost opportunity for organizations.”

Lack of Full Engagement

Put simply, satisfied and engaged employees perform better. In a Towers Watson study of roughly 90,000 employees across 18 countries, companies with the most engaged employees reported a 19% increase in operating income and 28% growth in earnings per share. Companies whose employees had the lowest level of engagement had a 32% decline in operating income and an 11% drop in earnings.

People enjoy being engaged in meaningful work . Humans, by nature, are a passionate species, and most of us seek out stimulating experiences. Companies that recognize this and actively cultivate and communicate a worthwhile corporate purpose become employers of choice.

A major Gallup Organization research study identified 12 critical elements for creating highly engaged employees. About half deal with employees’ sense of belonging. One of the key criteria is captured in the following statement: “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”

After basic needs are fulfilled, an employee searches for meaning in a job. People seek a higher purpose, something in which to believe. If, in your role as a leader, you aren’t articulating what you care about and how you plan to make a difference, then you probably aren’t inspiring full engagement.

In the work I do hospital coaching, this is a major concern for people: they either aren’t sure what it is that their own true purpose is, or their not sure what their organization’s is. Coaching is designed to help people find the connection between job requirements and fulfillment and meaning.

If you aren’t clear, ask your coach for help in finding answers. And if you need help in finding the right coach, let me know.

Why Are You Here? Connecting to What Truly Matters

Knowing why you’re here, and who you want to be, isn’t a part-time job. The challenge is to live out what you stand for, intentionally, in every moment. ~ Tony Schwartz, author

Far from being touchy-feely concepts touted by motivational speakers, purpose and values have been identified as key drivers of high-performing organizations.

  • In Built to Last, James Collins and Jerry Porras reveal that purpose- and values-driven organizations outperformed the general market and comparison companies by 15:1 and 6:1, respectively.
  • In Corporate Culture and Performance, Harvard professors John Kotter and James Heskett found that firms with shared-values based cultures enjoyed 400% higher revenues, 700% greater job growth, 1,200% higher stock prices and significantly faster profit performance, as compared to companies in similar industries.
  • In Firms of Endearment, marketing professor Rajendra Sisodia and his coauthors explain how companies that put employees’ and customers’ needs ahead of shareholders’ desires outperform conventional competitors in stock-market performance by 8:1.

Leaders who have a clearly articulated purpose and are driven to make a difference can inspire people to overcome insurmountable odds, writes Roy M. Spence Jr. in It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For.

“Life is short, so live it out doing something that you care about,” he writes. “Try to make a difference the best way you can. There’s an enormous satisfaction in seeing the cultural transformation that happens when an organization is turned on to purpose.”

This author makes some very good points backed up with real examples of some of the most effective companies in the world. In the work I do with people in organizations, so often I find that there’s confusion over what’s really important.

While a well-designed strategy and its effective implementation are required for business success, neither inspires followers to maintain engagement during troubled times. Purpose must tap into people’s hearts and help them give their best when the chips are down.

Don’t ever take a job to join a crusade! Find a cause that you can believe in and give yourself to it completely. ~ Colleen Barrett, president emerita of Southwest Airlines

It’s up to leaders to find that spark that can light up the hearts and minds of employees at all levels. And, it’s also up to each of us to find that inner purpose that’s the guiding light for our energy. Corporate Coaching can help find it if you haven’t already identified and articulated it for yourself.

Understanding the Five Roles of Leadership

Are there universally shared leadership characteristics? Experts estimate that 50 to 85 percent of leadership characteristics are found in all effective leaders. The missing variables are personal situations and internal influences (drive, ambition, etc.).
You can improve your leadership abilities by focusing on the main characteristics that define those who succeed at leading others. (Read my previous post here.) The Leadership Code’s five-rule framework represents 60 to 70 percent of fundamentally effective leadership. While there may be variances in strategy, vision and individual job requirements, the rules are designed as a foundation for effective leadership across all industries.
Most people are naturally predisposed to excel in one or two of the five leadership roles:

  1. Strategist
  2. Executor
  3. Talent manager
  4. Human-capital developer
  5. Personal proficiency

Some are big-picture strategists and future-oriented, while others love getting things done or engaging people for high performance.
If you’re in a more senior role, you’ll need to branch out from your predisposed areas of excellence. You’ll be required to master all of the first four roles or surround yourself with people who can fill in the gaps for you.
The last role, personal proficiency, is the foundation for improving skills in the first four roles. Personal proficiency will help you become a more rounded leader. It is the only one that cannot be delegated, although having an executive coach [link] can help you develop more rapidly.
At the heart of leadership effectiveness is the ability to continually learn and enhance your personal effectiveness.
You are not solely defined by what you do or know. In fact, there’s a lot you don’t know about yourself because everyone has limited vision and blind spots. We err in thinking. We jump to conclusions. We have poor communication habits that could definitely improve. Personal proficiency takes time, vigilance and help from others.
Who you are as a leader has everything to do with how much you can accomplish with and through other people. In The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner cite three reasons why people follow someone:

  1. Integrity
  2. Competency
  3. Forward thinking

Leaders are learners, and their classroom is everywhere. We learn from our mistakes, successes, books, coworkers, bosses, friends and life itself. Leaders are passionate about their beliefs and interests, willing to examine them at every occasion.
Leaders know what matters to them. They inspire loyalty and goodwill in others because they act with integrity and trust. They can be bold and courageous because they know what matters most. This helps them tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty and crises.
The Leadership Code provides four summary observations:

  1. All leaders must excel at personal proficiency. Without a foundation of trust and credibility, you cannot ask others to follow you.
  2. All leaders must have one towering strength. Most successful leaders excel in at least one of the other four core roles. Most are personally predisposed to one of the four areas (i.e., their signature strength).
  3. All leaders must be at least average in their weaker leadership domains.
  4. The higher you rise in an organization, the more you need to develop excellence in the remaining domains.

How can you use this framework for leadership effectiveness to improve your abilities? And, if you’re not working yet with an executive coach, review my web pages to see if it makes sense for you in your current career path to explore this option. I’d love to hear from you.

The Who, What and Why of Leadership

How do these five rules for effective leadership from The Leadership Code: 5 Rules to Lead By, (Harvard Business Press, 2011) Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman fit in with other leadership theories? (See my previous posts here and here.) Leadership has evolved from the military models of centuries ago to contemporary theories of scientific management, situational leadership, servant leadership and other widely discussed styles.
The primary principles of effective leadership nonetheless remain consistent. Without effective leadership skills, no one will follow you.
Here’s a look at some traditional leadership theories, based on the key questions journalists ask to uncover a story: who, what, when, where, why and how.

  1. Who is a leader? The image of a tall man in a dark suit, impeccably groomed, comes to mind. He is authoritative, with a firm handshake, warm smile and steady gaze. For a long time, leaders were sought for their physical traits: height, gender, heritage, education and speaking style. This approach proved to be based on false assumptions, but such prejudices still exist in the C-suites. Today, it’s called executive presence. The criteria have changed (somewhat), but people are still influenced by looks.
  2. How do leaders act? Leadership has been defined by behavioral style. There are six distinct leadership styles, according to Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence:
    • Directive: Immediate compliance. Giving orders, or telling someone what to do.
    • Visionary: Providing long-term direction and vision for employees. Inspiring action through personal and professional vision.
    • Affiliative: Creating harmony among employees and between the manager and employees. Fostering a harmonious environment.
    • Participative: Building commitment among employees and generating new ideas. Collaborating to achieve a goal.
    • Pace-setting: Accomplishing tasks to high standards of excellence. Setting high standards that challenge the team to keep up.
    • Coaching: Long-term professional development of employees. Determining how to help people address their strengths and challenges. Creating a development plan to help them achieve their potential.

    In general, these styles define a leader by how he or she behaves. Do you “take charge” or “take care”? Leaders exhibit a preferred style, but the effective ones can be both soft and hard; they’re flexible in switching between managing tasks and caring about people.

  3. When and where do leaders focus on the person or task? This question relates to situational leadership. The appropriate leadership style depends on understanding situational context and specifics.
  4. What do leaders know and do? What are the key leadership competencies? What core body of knowledge, skills and values define successful leaders? In this leadership model, the focus is on both the situation and the business strategy.
  5. Why does leadership matter? Some leadership theorists have shifted away from competencies to focus on results. Leadership is about getting the right results in the right way. Leaders need to achieve a balanced scorecard of employee, customer, investor and organizational results to provide sustainable results.
  6. Perhaps this has reminded you of MBA courses and leadership workshops you’ve sat through, or business books that have claimed to have the secret to unlock leadership magic. It’s tempting to buy into yet again another fad-du-jour.
    But if you want to seriously improve your leadership abilities, you can’t read a book and simply start to apply new skills. Leadership is more about relationships and character. That can’t be developed on your own. One of the most effective ways to grow your leadership abilities is with an executive coach.