Purpose!

I was introduced to a great video around motivation by Brad Feld’s blog.  If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth 10 minutes of your time.  Much of what Brad and the video highlights is very relevant.  The primary idea was debunking the notion that pay and performance are linearly correlated.  While true in mechanical tasks, the research demonstrates that for anything requiring cognitive engagement, if pay gets de-coupled from purpose, outcomes are markedly inferior in spite of higher reward.  The talk is riveting, and I thought I’d offer a few suggestions based on what I’ve seen from our best executives.

First, create a purpose!  Many companies I meet with mistakenly assume it is so self-obvious that it is never made explicit.  And yet deciding those few words can make all the difference in the world.  Once articulated, the great thing that happens is those words can then be printed and shared over and over across a Company.  It allows purpose to be infectious and align an organization.  “Is everything I am doing consistent with our purpose?”  When everyone thinks with a higher goal in mind, it helps create a consistency of outcome.  Companies like Zappos are a great example of this.

Second, make sure you define a purpose in an aspirational way, not functional.  Purpose to me is not something that gets achieved, it’s a direction.  For example, it’s not “we want to build the best online marketing software” but “we want change the way people discover and interact online”.   Instead of “we will be the leader in online multi-player games” but “we want to revolutionize the experience, distribution and delivery of games to online audiences”.  Admittedly I spent 15 seconds thinking of these examples, but the idea is stay away from purpose that does not appeal to a fundamental emotion or create a cause of action.  The term BHAG comes to mind.

Third, find ways to reinforce the purpose and make accomplishment tangible.  Our best companies create exposure and reinforcing loops to show how individuals and the company support the mission.  Developers get introduced to customers who rave about how a new feature has shaved an hour off of their day.  Metrics are aggregated that frame how their engagement and excitement compares to other things out there.  Spontaneous community activities are highlighted and ‘shout-outs’ to individuals go company wide.  Beyond incentive compensation, people need feedback on a regular basis that they are indeed contributing to and achieving purpose.

Our best companies and leaders have a sense beyond themselves.  They create ideals that people line up to get behind.  When people believe, they will go through walls to create outcomes.  And when everyone is willing to break through walls, usually you break through mountains.  This is hard to do and requires focus to make happen, but remember even life is not that interesting without PURPOSE!