Engagement and motivation, that’s what we all want in life and work. Don’t people already have a faint idea of what their motivation is?
If you do the 100-meter dash and you’re training for the Olympics, a lot of attention goes into what state do you need to be in to maximize your performance? You don’t get to choose which day it is. Somebody else is picking that day. On that one day, four years from now, at such an or other time in the afternoon, you have to be at your peak. So athletes spend a lot of time focused on ‘how do I get myself into a maximum performance state when I need to be in it?’ They study that. But interestingly, in business, people don’t seem to care about motivation and being in a high-performance state. You don’t care whether your executives are in a high-performance state. You don’t care whether your employees are in a high-performance state. Are you sure you don’t care whether they’re in a high-performance state?
Remember what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to produce more, better, faster than our competitor is. So, it matters whether these people are in a high-performance state!
So I’ll give you my favorite purpose statistic. Gallup has been measuring employee engagement for years. The US is close to 30 percent, which is really good compared to most countries.
It varies from country to country, but global employee engagement last time they measured it, I believe, was 13 percent. Of every 100 employees, 13 actually care about their jobs. Which is not a great number. And there’s been a huge amount of effort spent on tweaking compensation and employee branding and all kinds of stuff to try to raise that number. And it’s hardly moved at all. And I mean, billions and billions of dollars being spent trying to push that number up with very little effect.
Korn Ferry measured employee engagement of companies that are purpose-driven, and the number they got was 90 percent, which is an insane number. if your company has 13 percent employee engagement and my company has 90 percent employee engagement, I don’t care what your strategic plan is. I am going to eat your lunch. You are doomed.
So there is something that actually moves the needle in a hugely substantial way. And still, adoption is relatively slow.
Requirements to really get the motivational benefit of purpose
Many organizations have purpose or mission statements that don’t provide motivation.
The reason they don’t provide motivation is that the purpose is not inspiring. The organization has to have a purpose and that purpose has to be a higher purpose.
1. A higher purpose
So a higher purpose is inspiring. People get excited about it, they like it, and they want to participate in making it true. And the people who really understand this are the ones who run nonprofits and NGOs; they get it. And the reason they get it is because they get people to give them money, time, and effort to help them make the purpose true. And so the purpose has to be a fairly high-grade purpose in order for it to be strongly motivating enough that people will come and work for free or just write checks. So how many for-profit companies do you know where people write donation checks to the company and get no services in return?
I like to say this to CEOs. I say, ‘How come you want the NGOs and the non-profits to have all the excited, passionate people who would be willing to do the job if they didn’t get paid for it? And you want all the grumpy, disengaged employees who are constantly asking for more money? Why is that your business plan? How does that advantage you in any way?’ No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay your employees; you should. But the idea is, if your purpose is strong enough, they’re there to fulfill your purpose. And the fact that you pay them means that they can afford to do it full time. Which is a very different contract than the way people traditionally think about it. Traditionally, it’s ‘you do these tasks that you don’t want to do and I’ll pay you for it.’ That’s how economists model the work contract. And that’s a terrible way to model the work contract.
So the requirement is that the purpose is sufficiently inspiring, that people are excited about the purpose for its own sake. And that means that the purpose has to be about something other than benefiting the company. It has to be about making the world a better place and about contributing to others, to the environment or animals or starving children or whales or something. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, but it has to be about something beyond the scope of the company’s economic activities. And that is so hard for CEOs to grasp. They just can’t bring themselves to do it. And so they make the mission about delivering better services or pleasing their customers or something like that. And then the result is it’s a perfectly valid business mission and it’s not inspiring. And then you don’t get the benefit of everything we’re talking about.
A higher purpose is inspiring. People get excited about it, they like it, and they want to participate in making it true. And the people who really understand this are the ones who run nonprofits and NGOs; they get it. And the reason they get it is because they get people to give them money, time, and effort to help them make the purpose true.
Hold on, Tim, before you mention the other requirements. Thinking beyond the scope of the company’s economic activities implies we’re looking for something like adding social or ecological value to the planet and society. Bigger stuff than creating websites or coaching companies. And I remember from your training that your purpose is to be found beyond the boundaries of your conscious brain. But I’m Dutch and I know what kind of responses this will get, like ‘This is scary. This is not our kind of stuff. This is too spiritual or aspirational.’
It’s so interesting, Paula. The Dutch have these antibodies to anything that smells spiritual. It is more so than any place I’ve worked all over the world, more so than in Israel or China, which are incredibly secular countries, but the Dutch have been like the maximum on this one.
It doesn’t have to be spiritual. We’re looking for something inspiring. We’re not looking for something spiritual. The problem is that inspiration smells a little like spirituality. And then the antibody is getting all excited and energized.
That’s why I have to spend time dealing with fears first. The first action is to calm down the antibodies so that people can get something from outside of their conscious brain that can actually answer the question.
It’s not as much work to resolve these fears as you think; it typically takes somewhere around two to four hours.
2. Individual purposes known
So requirement number two is that the individual people participating in the company purpose project all know their own individual higher purpose in life. They can give a good, clear answer to the question, ‘Why are you here?’ Not ’Why are you here in this company?’ ‘Why are you here on this planet?’ And they can answer that question clearly and succinctly in a way that motivates them strongly. That’s requirement two.
3.Align personal purpose with the organization
And requirement three is there’s a connection between their purpose and the purpose of the organization. They’re similar enough that they can do both at the same time.
4. Align individual purpose to your own role
The fourth requirement is there’s a connection between their individual purpose and their job, their role. When they’re doing their role in the company, they’re advancing their own purpose. Once you get all those things tied together – which very rarely happens – then the people become insanely motivated. This is like the Olympic athlete version of business, right? Instead of the kids playing on the playground, it’s the Olympic athlete version. And most people and businesses are not even trying.