What is your organization’s purpose, it’s reason for being? What would front line staff say if you asked them that question?
There’s only one sure way to find out – ask them. If your organization or team is like many I’ve worked with, you’ll find that front line staff are surprised at the question. Their answers express the consistent messages they’ve heard from their leaders over the years: “Our company exists to make money,” or “We make compressors” (or whatever your company’s primary product is).
All businesses must be profitable; making money is a really good thing. When companies make money, they can hire more people. They can impact more lives. They can improve more communities (just to name a few benefits). However, if “making money” is seen by employees as the primary purpose of your organization, they’re not going to be personally inspired by it.
When we study high performing, values-aligned organizations, we find that leaders in those organizations are intentional about helping all staff understand how customers and community benefit from the organization’s products or services. They find ways of communicating how employee efforts impact their customers, and use storytelling to keep an inspiring purpose fresh.
For example, one culture client was a catalog printing plant. When asked what the plant’s purpose was, nearly every employee said, “To make money” or “To print catalogs.” The leadership team realized that they had not positioned how catalogs, printed perfectly and cost-effectively, helps the plant’s customers succeed with their businesses. They had numerous real examples but leaders had simply not understood the power of sharing these success stories.
Within months, the leadership team drafted a revised purpose statement and tested it with employees. It immediately rang true and – equally important – it inspired plant staff. The revised statement became “the purpose of our catalog plant is to provide marketing tools that drive our customers’ business success.”
The plant’s clear purpose helped align activities and behavior to ensure that the purpose was acted upon, every day. The purpose statement actually compelled employees to proactively contribute to the plant’s “reason for being.”
Employees jumped at the chance to engage in their work differently. Processes were refined. Waste was cut in half. If the colors for a John Deere dealer catalog shifted during a print run to the wrong green, employees stopped the press, fixed the color, and re-ran the catalogs with the perfect green. Stopping a press that’s running a thousand impressions a minute is expensive – but it was the right thing to do for the customers’ business success.
A compelling, inspiring purpose statement outlines the genuine positive impact your company’s products or services have on your customers businesses and lives. How well does your company, division, or team’s purpose statement inspire employees?
Join in the conversation about this post/podcast in the comments section below. What is your organization’s purpose statement? How do your company’s products or services positively impact your customers and communities?
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