Employees Want Connection to a Cause

More and more, people are not just thinking about what they do for a living, but how that effort contributes to some greater purpose. Daniel Pink Tells us that Purpose is one of three key individual motivators, along with Autonomy and Mastery. At CTO2, we talk about Autonomy, Connection, Excellence, and Diversity.

Connection means a number of things and over the course of the next several months, we'll explore various aspects of connection in organizations. Today, the discussion is specifically Connection to a Cause.

In theory, one can learn about your cause by reading your vision or mission statement, but as it turns out...

Most Mission Statements Suck

It is commonplace for companies to have mission and vision statements these days. Once identified as a differentiator, the mission statement is now pervasive and benign. It isn't the number of companies with a mission statement that's stripped such statements of value. It is simply that there are so many valueless mission statements, most employees scoff at their existence.

What is it you would say you do here?

Fortune 500 companies are sporting missions statements such as

"Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate."

Not only does this feel like a bunch of doublespeak mumbo jumbo, this mission statement doesn't tell us a thing about the company, why they exist, who their customers are, or what services or goods they actually offer.

Show me the Money!

Some seem to think money is the mission.

"The purpose of [our company] is to earn money for its shareholders and increase the value of their investment. We will do that through growing the company, controlling assets and properly structuring the balance sheet, thereby increasing EPS, cash flow, and return on invested capital."

With a focus on profit, growth, or return on shareholder value, these companies seem to think they exist to make money. Customer service and quality of product are a means to an end; sustainable profits in service of shareholders. Having been both a shareholder and employee of a number of companies, I can tell you shareholder value was way down on the list of things that inspired me. I was excited by the notion of "Making the World of Software Development a Better Place to Work" or "Empowering the Local Business".

Greed leads to poor corporate health as surely as gluttony leads to poor personal health.

To be in business in order to make money is like to be alive in order to eat. You've got it backwards and the decisions you make as a result are more likely to be detrimental than beneficial. Greed leads to poor corporate health as surely as gluttony leads to poor personal health.

All The Things!

Another common issue with mission statements is that they are too broad. A mission statement that includes several objectives provides little clarity. Let's take a look at the following Fortune 500 company mission statement:

"We will build a unique portfolio of beauty and related brands, striving to surpass our competitors in quality, innovation and value, and elevating our image to become the beauty company most women turn to worldwide. We will become the destination store for women, offering the convenience of multiple brands and channels, and providing a personal high touch shopping experience that helps create lifelong customer relationships. We will expand our presence in direct selling and lead the reinvention of the channel, offering an entrepreneurial opportunity that delivers superior earnings, recognition, service and support, making it easy and rewarding to be affiliated with [us] and elevating the image of our industry. We will be known for our leadership edge, through our passion for high standards, our respect for diversity and our commitment to create exceptional opportunities for professional growth so that associates can fulfill their highest potential. We will be a committed global champion for the health and well-being of women through philanthropic efforts that eliminate breast cancer from the face of the earth, and that empower women to achieve economic independence. We will deliver superior returns to our shareholders by tirelessly pursuing new growth opportunities while continually improving our profitability, a socially responsible, ethical company that is watched and emulated as a model of success."

Let's break this one down.

This company is going to be the leading women's beauty company worldwide, be a destination store with a high-touch experience, reinvent direct selling, offer superior entrepreneurial opportunities, empower women to economic independence, elevate the image of their entire industry, be known for leadership, eliminate breast cancer, and deliver superior returns to shareholders.

This is an inspiring read. I imagine many who read this would say, "These are wonderful, meaningful and inspiring goals. I'd like to work for this company."

The challenge is the breadth of the statement. If you work for this company and are in the third quarter of a down-turn, do you cut back on contributions to philanthropic organizations providing leading breast cancer research, do you adjust compensation structures for your independent (entrepreneurial) direct sellers, or do you provide shareholders with a lower return or even a loss?

And if there is a rise in demand for beauty products for men, do you enter that market or not? Entering the men's market allows for growth and better returns which also allows for larger philanthropic contributions. It may elevate the image of the industry, depending on how that's defined. It may show great leadership. But it is inconsistent with the goal to be the leading women's beauty company.

In my opinion, a short and simple statement such as, "To improve the wellbeing of women everywhere through economic opportunities with a focus on health and beauty.", is a significant improvement over the existing 1500+ character statement. This short, simple statement provides clarity and flexibility. If you don't care about the wellbeing of women everywhere, don't join this company. If you are not interested in health and beauty, don't join this company. If you do care about the wellbeing of women everywhere and are interested in health and beauty, this may be a good company for you. And when faced with challenges or opportunities, this company is better able to make decisions that are consistent with this simple statement.

Defining Your Company's Cause

Start with Why

In Simon Sinek's 2009 book, "Start with Why", he explains that great companies start with "why". To help clarify the idea, he introduces the notion of the "Golden Circle".

This circle has three layers to it:

Why - This is the core belief of the business. It's why the business exists.

How - This is how the business fulfills that core belief.

What - This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.

Sinek posits that most companies think backwards. Rather than starting at the center with "why" or purpose, they start at the outer-most ring, or "what" and then try to figure out "how". Many companies fail to take a serious look at why they even exist. Some actually do not know the answer to this question. But according to the research, Sinek warns us, "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it."

A comparison

Let's take a look at two real companies for a comparison. Teamwork.com and Asana are two companies competing in the same fundamental space of project management software. There are a number of companies in this space, but we've chosen these two because they both have a mission statement publicly accessible on their web site. Many of the other companies in this market, such as Microsoft, Pivotal Labs, and Atlassian are broader technology companies that happen to have a project management tool in their portfolio. For those that do make their mission statement publicly available, they tend to be more general, applying to the company's overall business as opposed to a specific division.

Teamwork.com's mission is

"To make the world's most easy-to-use, fastest and best Project Management System."

Asana's mission is

"To help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly."

Teamwork.com's mission is focused on what; making project management software. Asana's mission is focused on why; helping humanity thrive through teamwork.

And while, admittedly, Teamwork.com is going to have some initial appeal for developers who are clearly first class citizens of the company, building a Project Management System doesn't speak to the heart for most of us. It speaks to purpose or utility. It satisfies a need.

At Asana, on the other hand, you're helping humanity thrive by writing software that fosters collaboration across multiple teams and initiatives. This speaks to the heart. This aspires to solve a much larger problem.

Create the Connection

Companies that start with why are able to attract customers and employees who share their fundamental beliefs. And equally important, are able to filter out customers and employees who are neutral or negative toward the company's "why". This creates stronger ties between the company and the people that choose to associate with it. The end result is greater sales, higher employee retention, and lower costs.

This is the connection to the cause. A connection with why the company exists. A sense of alignment and belonging that resonates from the heart, not just the mind.