Connecting People to Purpose
By Eric Pope, VP Operations at US Synthetic
A recent report by BTOES Insight, a publication connected to Business Transformation & Operational Excellence World Summit, indicates for the second year in a row that company culture is the single biggest challenge businesses face. How can culture be the biggest challenge? What is it about culture that is so important to these surveyed business leaders?
Your culture is the sum of the repeated behaviors in your company. It is these collective behaviors that are producing today's results. Business leaders are increasingly realizing that in order to change results, you must change culture. Altering our collective repeated behaviors is the most sustainable and impactful way to drive results. However, changing behaviors is hard. Moving people from the comfortable paradigms, philosophies, beliefs, and methods to something new does not just happen. It takes leaders who know how to be the catalyst to inspire, motivate, teach, and enable others to experiment, innovate, progress, adapt, and adopt new thinking. It is this new thinking that leads to new behaviors, which forms the new culture and ultimately improved performance.
Leaders must Create a Unified Reason for Change
There are many elements that effectively change leadership, but none are as important as giving people a unified reason for change. This reason must be compelling enough that people are willing to subject themselves to the anxieties and struggles of change. It must be motivating enough to create a willingness to try something new. It must feel safe enough to broadcast the problems and shortcomings of their work and to concede that there has to be a better way. It must be desirable enough to instill patience in people—a patience that is sufficient to work in a “work in progress.” It should be inspiring enough to engage people beyond just doing their work. It should inspire them to actually improve their work. And on top of all that, everyone must trust that those around him or her are aligned, working and thinking the same. This engaged and empowered environment begins with creating a shared purpose.
The Purpose of the Business is Bigger than the Business
So, what is the purpose of your business? How do you define success? Most would answer these questions with business language.
Business leaders are increasingly realizing that in order to change results, you must change culture
To be the best at or to be the industry leader at. We would finish our story of success and purpose by describing great business results, market share, sales, profit, growth, etc.
What if I asked about your personal purpose in life? How would you describe success in your own life? The majority of people talk about personal success in terms of their family, the strength of their relationships, having fun with others, personal security, the ability to make an impact in the lives of others, being a force for good in the community, individual growth, educational accomplishments, or overall progress. You will find that wherever you go in the world, no matter the demographic, people will have the same general purpose and visions of success.
Now take your two stories of success, business and life, and ask which are you more willing to change your repeated behaviors for? Which one will you work your whole life toward? Which one will carry you when times are tough? Which one commands your passion and commitment? Which one are you most aligned to with others that surround you?
Our job as leaders and builders of culture is to establish a compelling and shared propose. That shared purpose already exists in the minds of every employee. They already work tirelessly for and are committed to and passionate about it. And it’s not your "be the best in the world at vision. It is about lives. It is the reason why we all go to work. It is the reason why the business exists; it is to improve lives.”
Leaders must Connect Personal Purpose to Business Purpose
Our job as leaders is to connect this purpose—that is bigger than the business—to the business. To do so, we must ask ourselves how does our business enable, help, or facilitate that bigger vision? If you cannot make that connection, you will become another disengaged workplace statistic and will continue to struggle to improve your culture.
It is easy to make the connection; but it is hard to live the connection. The connection is the business exists to provide goods and services to make the world a better place. It also exists to provide great jobs to employees, so they can support their families, their hobbies, and their life's aspirations. It also exists to provide a return to investors, so they can support their families, their hobbies and their life's purpose. It also exists to give life to communities, so that other enterprise and services can exist to create a great place to live. The business exists to improve lives. We must formally make this connection, declare it, message it, and live it.
A Strong Business is the Economic Engine for Our Shared Purpose
In addition, we must help our employees see that lives are only improved when the business is strong and healthy. A bad business never did anybody any good. Employees must see that there is no tradeoff between business success and personal success. They are one and the same. In a high-performance culture, we all work every day to make the business as strong as possible. Why? Because, it is the economic engine to improve the lives of my coworkers, my customers, my share holders, my community, and myself.
When your organization aligns to this thinking, behaviors change. They evolve in a direction of engagement, problem solving, team work, and ownership. A shared purpose sets the foundation for a high-performance culture. This purpose of improving lives exists in the minds of your people. Acknowledge it, align to it, and thrive in it.