WHY? Employees don’t give their lives to a job; but they will for a noble cause.
When quality and price are equal, the most important factor influencing brand choice is Purpose. This outpaces design and innovation, and brand loyalty. Across the globe, the prominence of Purpose as a purchase trigger has risen 26 percent since 2008. 1
What motivates people to bring their best to work?
An invitation to change the world.When people find something noble and heroic to be part of, their lives and work take on meaning and significance. Innovation, change and growth is difficult and messy. It does not always go according to plan. So, what fuels the fires of perseverance when the critics are firing arrows and the demons of self-doubt set in? It is a conviction that you are solving a problem that really matters. We remember reading a story about Honeywell’s Aerospace and Defense Group when they were working on the Apollo program. They worked insanely long hours with total dedication. They made personal and professional sacrifices that no manager could ask or demand. What made them do it? Well, it was not sophisticated management techniques or lavish financial incentives. It was because they believed that they were responsible for putting a man on the moon. They believed America’s pride and reputation were in their hands. They were responding to a heroic CAUSE—a noble purpose! You cannot buy that level of commitment, but you can develop it by helping people see the significance of their contributions. How? By giving them a direct line-of-sight to the ultimate CAUSE for which your business fights.
For more than ten years now, we have been measuring employee engagement in companies all over the globe. And, with a few wonderful exceptions, the results have not changed much. Approximately 74% of the global workforce is either not engaged or actively disengaged.2 With all the effort we have put into this issue why have we not cracked the code on engagement? And more important, why are we not outraged as business leaders? It is costing businesses billions of dollars each year in lost productivity. And who knows what the indirect costs are in terms of a lack of innovation and efficiency? A critical mass of “dead people working” are not likely to be loading the pipeline with fresh ideas that will grow your business.
It is estimated that when JFK said, “we will put a man on the moon by the end of this decade,” we only knew 15% of what we needed to know to do it.
Grumman, which designed the lunar landing module, estimated that it tripled productivity during the time its people were pursuing this project. A noble, heroic CAUSE gives fervor to our interest in and engagement at work. It is hard to be listless when a CAUSE inflames your passion for what you are doing.
Experience the cultures of USAA, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, and Medtronic in the US. Something beyond making computers, flying people from one point to another, selling organic food, and manufacturing medical supplies is going on in these companies. You quickly get the sense that employees are caught up in a cause that touches them at a deep emotional level— something that transcends profitability and the bottom line. They believe that the products and services they create have great social value. The emotional connection they have with this larger cause releases a powerful flow of passion, pride, perseverance, and productivity. The revolutionary spirit, maniacal focus, missionary zeal, and upbeat attitudes make these places feel more like crusades than businesses. And guess what? They are blowing the doors off business-as-usual when it comes to profitability and shareholder value.
Consider Southwest Airlines as a case in point. The overwhelming majority of Southwest’s 45,000 impassioned employees show up to work everyday fully awake, fully engaged and firing on all cylinders. Why? They are working for a CAUSE. The people of Southwest Airlines believe they are in the business of freedom. That is, giving people from every walk of life the freedom to go, see, and do things they never dreamed of doing. It is the grandmother on a limited income who wants to go see her family two or three times a year versus once a year. It is the child from a broken family who can travel back and forth between two locations and have a relationship with both parents. It is the budding entrepreneur who can expand her business into more cities because she can afford to fly there. Ramp agents know that when they are late by only two minutes to push an aircraft on a morning flight, those two minutes could compound into 90 minutes over 11 flights by the end of the day. They also know that this could mean adding 20-30 planes to the fleet (at $70 million apiece) to maintain Southwest’s schedule. To these “rampers,” having to do so is an affront to the business of freedom.
These “freedom fighters” have created 45 consecutive years of profitability in an industry that has traditionally struggled. Southwest’s operating revenues have grown from $2 million in 1971 to $19 billion in 2015. Southwest’s cost per available seat mile is the lowest in the industry; it serves more passengers per employee and has fewer employees per aircraft than the rest of the industry. And, it gets more flights out of each aircraft per day than anyone in the business. What does this mean? Southwest turns more airplanes, faster, with fewer employees and lower costs than every other major carrier in the world! Southwest also tops the industry in every major customer service metric—service, baggage handling and on-time performance.
Here’s the thing. If you make a widget and I make a widget that are relatively the same; and if we compete and your company is defined as a cause and mine is not, you have the advantage. A heroic cause has a magnetic effect on great talent. World-class people gravitate to companies where they know they can change the world. The kind of talent you need to grow wants to be part of something bigger.
Why vs. what and how
We think we have missed a critical part of the employee engagement equation. We have spent an inordinate amount of time focused on HOW. How do we equip our people to do a job, to be the best? How do we develop them to be leaders and innovators? How do we get them to change? Maybe we should ask: Have we given them anything worth changing for? Have we shown them the WHY behind the HOW? Have we invited them to join an organization that is changing the world?
The more you show employees how their individual contributions link to the overall cause for which your business fights, the more heroic they will feel about what they do. And that sense of heroism will draw out of them a drive to succeed, a will to win, and a deep-seated passion that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen! When your employees come to work are they coming to a company or a CAUSE? Are they just earning a paycheck or do they belong to a movement of people who are earnestly fanatical about what you do?
In our new book, CAUSE, we highlight the people of National Life. They have developed a direct line-of-sight between their individual contribution and the larger CAUSE for which the company fights. The result is unprecedented growth from a company that competes in a sea of sameness.
Experience the culture of National Life and you quickly discover that something beyond selling insurance drives these people.
You quickly get the sense that employees are caught up in a cause that touches them at a deeply emotional level— something that transcends profitability and the bottom line. The emotional connection they have with a larger cause releases a powerful flow of passion, pride, perseverance, and productivity.
And guess what? They are blowing the doors off business-as-usual when it comes to loyalty, profitability and shareholder value.
1 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer
2 Gallup, “State of the American Workplace,” 2012
Jackie Freiberg is an independent business consultant and a best-selling author. National Life is grateful for her contribution of this article to our Main Street Blog, and her insights into our company, and other companies with a cause.