There’s been a lot discussion lately on the merits of telecommuting, in terms of fostering teamwork and innovation among disparate employees in an organization. While there’s certainly been a number of valid points made on both sides of this issue, one fundamental problem with this on-going discussion is the focus on how we work without any evaluation of how these strategies address the issue of why we work.
By now, all of us are familiar with the numerous studies that have unequivocally demonstrated that the ability to motivate employees through salary or other financial incentives has a very short shelf-life and is especially difficult to maintain when obstacles or challenges are placed in our way.
These studies have also shown that the most effective way to sustain our motivation and drive over the long run is being able to connect what we do with an internalized understanding and appreciation of the purpose behind why we do it; of why it matters both to ourselves, and to the organization and community we serve.
This is exactly the approach we see in many of today’s thriving organizations which have a clear connection between their collective efforts and the purpose behind their organization. These purpose-driven organizations don’t care about what their competition is doing because they don’t need to rely on others to define the value of what they do. That definition has already been created internally and collectively.
Our purpose tells us why what we do is so important that only we could do it, if not also why we have to do it. In the pursuit of profits and market share, it’s easy for an organization to lose that connection to why they started this journey in the first place and why others couldn’t address it as well as they could.
And this is what lies at the very heart of success and failure – how much we’ve reached or moved away from our shared purpose.
Consider, for example, the current obsession over innovation. It’s clear that to be truly innovative means that your organization has to be disruptive. That it has to change or challenge the status quo of how people operate or do things.
In today’s rapid-paced, interconnected world, making such a mark can seem daunting, not just in terms of our ability to achieve it, but also in the face of the reality that this requires that we first disrupt ourselves in the way we see and do things.
But this is where our sense of purpose truly begins to matter as it’s our shared purpose – our collective understanding of why we do what we do – that will serve as our compass and guide going forward. By focusing on our shared purpose, we no longer care about what the competition is doing. Instead, we care about how we can bring that shared purpose to life.
From this perspective, change becomes less fearsome because now it’s merely an instrument for how we’ll make our purpose real and tangible. And since we’re no longer focused on protecting the status quo, but on making our sense of purpose come alive, change becomes easier to manage and embrace.
Naturally, a clear thread running through all of this is communication. Namely, how well we as leaders communicate our vision of what that shared purpose is and why it matters, and then how well we continue to connect what our employees do with what matters to our organization and to them.
That’s why we can’t simply talk about this at an annual company meeting or worse, simply rely on a sheet of paper to communicate this idea. Rather, our employees need to see this vision, this purpose being communicated in everything we say and do. Our employees need to see it in every decision, every action and every word we speak.
When things are going wrong or a seemingly unavoidable obstacle crosses our path, we need to remind our employees of why this matters, of what our collective efforts are leading us towards, and why we’re the best ones to address and overcome this challenge.
And this also means that we need to demonstrate a level of care and trust in what our employees do. We have to demonstrate a sense of trust in their genius, their creativity, their ability to perceive issues we might not be aware of, and using those insights to guide and inform our decisions.
That’s why today’s successful leaders understand that they need to care for their employees because of the critical role they play in our ability to make the right choices, to be in the right frame of mind to see the best path for our organization to take.
While this might sound touchy-feely, the truth is that it’s the reality of doing business and leading organizations in today’s world. We can no longer expect to succeed and thrive, to learn from our failures and grow as an organization unless we recognize the key role leaders have to play in helping those they lead to not only be successful in their efforts, but to do work that creates a sense of meaning and purpose.
After all, how can we have the courage and determination to press ahead despite the fog of uncertainty in front of us if we lack a sense of clarity about why we should care about what we do? If those in leadership positions don’t consistently communicate why it matters to the degree that we need to see it through to the end despite the challenges we’ll have to face or endure?
Ultimately, what this comes down to is creating an environment where people want to work selflessly, instead of working selfishly. That our focus is on creating and promoting work that allows us to be present in the moment so that we can be appreciative, grateful, and celebratory of what we achieve through our collective efforts.
Over the last few years, there’s been much debate about whether organizations should be focusing on making work “fun”. If you love what you’re doing because it creates a sense of purpose and fulfilment, how can it not be fun? And why can’t work be fun if everyone involved benefits from our shared contributions? That in the process of achieving our shared goals, those around us feel honoured, respected, valued and needed?
To that end, it’s not about where people work or even when that should serve as the focus of our leadership and efforts to ensure our organization’s success. Rather, the question we should be asking ourselves in the face of uncertainty, change, failure or even success is what are we doing to create a sense of purpose within our organization? How are we instilling a sense of community and relatedness that binds us and compels us to press ahead regardless of what we might encounter tomorrow?
As we move further into a digital, relationship-based economy, it will be those organizations whose leadership focuses on these questions who will be best-equipped to not only address the evolving needs of the global economy, but who will also be able to provide the best opportunities for their employees – and consequently, their organization – to succeed and thrive.