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Giving Employees a Reason to Care

By: John Baldoni

When organizations succeed, it is because they know what they do and why they do it. We say they have “purpose.”

Let me share a story. Not long ago, I walked into an Apple store to inquire when the company might be introducing an external keyboard for the iPhone. The young man who handled my query was polite, but direct. “We are committed to the onscreen keyboard.” Note the word “we.” How many times have you heard a clerk say “we,” in particular to a customer who wants something the store does not carry? While some might have thought the young man arrogant, I did not. I considered him committed. His demeanor demonstrated that he believed in Apple, its product line, and its organizational purpose. This young man was acting on purpose, for purpose, and with purpose.


When I share this story with senior executives, I ask them: “What would you give to have an entire company full of employees like the young man who assisted me?" They smile wistfully knowing that such commitment is rare. But, in reality, it is only rare because companies do not take enough time to nurture such purposeful attitudes and results in the workplace.

It is up to leaders to make certain that organizational purpose is understood and acted upon. Based upon research and interviews with business executives in multiple sectors, I have concluded that there are seven key people-smart things that organizations must do to succeed in the new future.

1. Make purpose a control focus. Organizations that succeed are those that know where they are headed and why. It is up to leaders to use that sense of purpose to shake the destiny of their organizations and leverage the talents of the people in them to achieve intended results.

2. Instill purpose in others. While it may be a cliché to say that “people matter,” reality dictates that they do, indeed, matter. It is important to teach purpose to your people so that they have a sense of what the organization does and the role they play in it.

3. Make employees comfortable with ambiguity. The world as we knew it at the beginning of the century is over, and it is never coming back. With this new reality comes a sense of unease. We had grown accustomed to growth as a universal right. No longer will that be true. What will be true, however, is that purpose can provide clarity in unsettled times. Having strong purpose can provide the direction that employees need to navigate through ambiguity.

4. Turn good intentions into great results. The world is tough and people matter, but you still have to get the work done. Purpose can be an enabling factor that provides the link people need to connect what they do to what the organization needs them to do. When that happens, employees can turn ideas into practical applications that satisfy customer needs.

5. Make it safe to fail (as well as prevail). Purpose is the engine of innovation. While innovation relies upon creativity for spark, it is purpose that turns ideas into practical concepts. No company will succeed all of the time, but it needs to allow its work future to think and act creatively (and occasionally fail) as a means of preparing the organization to meet new and emerging challenges.

6. Develop the next generation. Few senior executives will be in their current jobs in five or ten years from now. They may be heading other organizations or they may have retired. Savvy organizations are purposeful about how they develop future leaders. They integrate leadership development into how they run their operations.

7. Prepare yourself. Purposeful organizations need leaders who know themselves first; that is, they have an inner compass that points them in the right direction. Such leaders catalyze their own purpose to help their organizations succeed.

So, purpose can be a driving force for an organization to achieve its intended results. Purpose forms the backbone of what an organization exists to do, upon which you can build vision and mission. A central challenge for leaders is to bring people together for common cause.

It is important for business and public sector leaders to understand their responsibility to instill purpose in the workplace in order to harness the talents of their people. Not only will they succeed in the present, but they will also prevail for generations to come.

Purpose matters.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Lead with Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself by John Baldoni. Copyright 2012, John Baldoni. Published by AMACOM. For more information, visit www.amacombooks.org