Steve Jobs famously said, “we’re here to make a dent in the universe.” Your team needs to know why they should show up for work.
I absolutely hate it when I’m asked ‘Why’?
I feel my coach is like a 4-year old. “Why are you in this business?” she asks me. And my answer only leads to another why: “why do you want to facilitate more humane workplaces?” And she never stops: “but why do you want to help people realize their full potential?” Like a child on a long road trip, she’s asking “But why?” “Why?”
It’s also the question I ask most often in my workshops. And it’s the question that most often elicits nothing but silence. I just hate the most when the shoe is on the other foot and I’m a participant in someone else’s workshop. Because it’s a hard question to answer.
To answer the question properly I have to look beyond the day-to-day minutia of the business. I have to stop being IN the business and start working ON the business. It demands that I look less at the individual customer or client and look at the impact I want to make on their lives.
That’s a lot of hard thinking.
To answer the question “WHY” I have to look beyond the day-to-day minutia of the business. I have to stop being IN the business and start working ON the business.
It’s also a lot to ask of a leader who is juggling their team, answers to their boss, is trying to execute on a strategy and has a customer on the line. I mean, for the love of God, surely it’s enough for me to focus on keeping the business afloat so that everyone has a job, right? Spending valuable mental resources on abstract questions like “what’s your why” Is a needless distraction, right?
Wrong. Spending time on the big picture is exactly where your focus needs to be if you wish to do any of those things well.
It’s not about you.
You’ve likely heard the expression “many hands make light work”. The job of a leader isn’t to spend your days doing the heavy lifting. After all, if you’re the only one on your team or in your company doing the heavy lifting then … you’re the only one doing the heavy lifting.
Your job as the leader of a high-performing team is to provide an aspirational purpose that makes others want to do the heavy lifting for their own reasons.
Steve Jobs famously said “we’re here to make a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why even be here?”
Under his vision, Apple set out to “make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” None of those early employees joined a struggling start-up and put up with the crap of working for a fierce and mercurial leader because of a paycheque. They could have done that at Walmart.
They joined Apple because it was a purpose-driven company and they wanted to change the way we used computers. The fact that they ended up creating the largest company in the world was simply a by-product.
A purpose-driven company (also referred to as mission-driven, aspirations-driven or vision-driven) is one that is clear about the impact it is making on its clients, on its community, and the world.
If you’re the kind of leader who might normally default to “maximizing profit for shareholders”, you’ll need to need to drill down to why you want to maximize profits and get clear on what impact you intend to make on the lives of your clients.
Is it Worth it to Be A Purpose-Driven Company?
Let’s take a look at the purpose-driven value statements of some of the world’s top technology corporations. And while we’re at it, let’s see how being clear on the purpose translated into their profits.
- Adobe’s mission is to “revolutionize how the world engages with ideas and information.” How profitable was leading a global revolution? $11.17 billion with earnings of $7.87 per share.
- Cognizant Technology Solutions claims that “every application we develop, every challenge we embrace, every investment in new resources, every recommendation we make – is dedicated to one goal: making our customers’ businesses stronger by empowering them to be more responsive to their customers and to the competitive environment.” How well did their aspiration of helping customers serve them? Revenue in 2018 increased to $16.13 billion, up 8.9% from 2017.
- Red Hat is “creating better technology the open source way.” In 2012, Red Hat became the first one-billion dollar open-source company, reaching US$1.13 billion in annual revenue during its fiscal year. Red Hat passed the $2 billion benchmark in 2015. As of February 2018, the company’s annual revenue was nearly $3 billion. Not bad for a company that fosters free software.
- Even Microsoft has an aspiration that references others: “We are committed long term to the mission of helping our customers realize their full potential.” And Microsoft raked in $36.8 billion in net profits in 2019, up 22 percent over the prior year.
You might ask why there is such a strong alignment between aspirational goals and financial performance. Certainly, part of it is good salesmanship and quality software products. But all of that is made possible by a workforce that is galvanized around purpose and given a clear strategy for its execution.
High-performing organizations succeed when they harness their purpose and ensure their strategy is aligned with the company’s goals.
Full disclosure: my cousin works for Red Hat. Not because he has to. With his house paid off, he briefly contemplated early retirement. He remained in the workforce and took up a role with Red Hat because he believes in the company’s mission and he connects with its aspirations. I know this for a fact because my cousin talked my ear off over dinner about what makes the company different and how much he respects what they do. His passion is a classic example of how purpose creates a high-performing team member.
When we are at our best, employees like my cousin aspire to make a difference. They want to leave a legacy that will outlast their stay in any one job. High-performing organizations succeed when they harness their purpose and ensure their strategy is aligned with the company’s goals.