A family member had an emergency and I spent a lot of time with him in the hospital. The experience was not pleasant. Most of our interactions with the doctors suggested a lack of caring. They seemed stressed or withdrawn, and in one case, deeply abusive. Given the choice, I would never allow another family member to go to that hospital.
Interestingly, on every wall was a mission statement and a set of organizational values. When I read the mission statement, it was a complex declaration that was neither clear nor inspiring. When I asked staff to comment on the mission statement, they just rolled their eyes. The words on the wall were not a source of inspiration but a source of cynicism. By putting them up, the administrators did positive harm to the organizational culture.
Despite this common, negative example, having a higher purpose can transform a workforce. At a recent meeting of the Academy of Management, we attended several sessions reporting on research related to a higher purpose. One researcher showed a surprising data set. She declared that in many industries, the best companies are widening the gap between themselves and the industry mean. She suggested that higher purpose is playing a key role.
In a recent Forbes article, Jeff Fromm writes:
Companies like Unilever have seen first-hand the tangible value of making purpose a core driver of growth and differentiation. Nearly half of the company’s top 40 brands focus on sustainability… (and) are growing 50 percent faster than the company’s other brands and delivering more than 60 percent of the company’s growth.
If the payoffs are so high why are so few organizations benefitting? Like the above hospital administrators, most executives try to create meaning by posting meaningless words on a wall, fostering cynicism rather than engagement. Becoming a company of higher purpose requires sincere commitment and effort to fully engage the hearts and minds of your people and your customer. In a recent book with Anjan Thakor, The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counter-Intuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization, we suggest eight key steps.
The statements are simple, but they are counterintuitive. They are outside the conventional, managerial mindset. For this reason, we have joined with CorpU to create a video-based workshop that any organization can use to explore, understand, and execute the eight steps. For an overview and introduction click the following link.