We had a great moment in a recent client session. The team was working to define their Purpose, Cause or Passion. When you get that right, it gives everyone in the company a clear statement of “why we exist." At its best, this becomes the emotional heart of the business. It’s not something most of us are trained to think about, let alone put into words, so leadership teams often struggle to get it right.
This team started out with very typical stuff, describing their collective passion with words like:
- Helping our clients solve [the particular problem we address]
- Helping our clients make better decisions
- Providing a long-term view that keeps our clients from making decisions they’ll regret
It wasn’t bad stuff, but there was no passion in it. The mood in the room was very flat until the company's founder and visionary, who so far had been quiet, spoke up.
Here's what he said:
“You know, that’s all great, but what really makes me happy is when a client invites me to one of their kids’ graduation, or to a wedding, or an anniversary party, or something like that.”
When he made that simple statement, the mood in the room changed instantly. The other members of the team sat up a little straighter in their chairs and started leaning forward. Their eyes widened. They smiled. They had stories to tell. They became engaged. It was as if someone turned up a dimmer switch that was attached to every member of the team. The best way we can describe it is that they all just started to glow.
The conventional wisdom is that businesses exist to solve a customer’s problem, to make money, to generate returns for investors, and so on. But businesses that are great, not merely good, revolve around a purpose or passion that’s larger than money, and that’s engaging and motivating to the people in the business. It gives identity to the people and meaning to the work. The visible reaction of the team we just described demonstrates just how powerful this is.
As important as it is for the leadership team, however, it’s even more important for the rest of the company. Another one of our clients describes its passion in four simple words: “Doing the Job Right.” The message to everyone in the business is clear – “We deliver industry-best, top-quality work to our customers, and we can only do that if we get absolutely top-quality work from everyone here.” This is a building trades company whose actual work is done by its lowest-paid employees. The ones for whom the company’s passion resonates need little managing and find the company a very rewarding place to work. The ones for whom it doesn’t find themselves acutely out of place and wind up working elsewhere.
Like both of these companies, whatever it is that makes you glow already exists. It's in there, waiting to be discovered and named. Figure it out. Boil it down to a few simple words. Communicate it like crazy. Then watch your people engage and make your company more successful.