The power of a higher organizational purpose in motivating employees is discussed in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) (July/August 2018) in a cover article titled “Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization”, written by Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor.
The steps outlined in this how-to article begin with Envision an Inspired Workforce. It can start small:
“a person, a team, a unit that exceeds the norms…can inspire others.”
Leaders are encouraged to recognize those seeking excellence, consider the purpose motivating their excellence and then envision that purpose influencing the larger workplace community.
The final step — Unleash the Positive Energizers – encourages leaders to tap the “energizers”, the change agents who already exist within your organization. While the authors are focused on purpose, they also highlight the positive, ripple effects energizers produce.
In academic circles this is called “network effects”. Leaders should search for people who are well-connected in the organization – but not entrenched in cliques. Their loose ties offer the powerful advantage of being able to spread their energy more quickly across a broader population.
Furthermore, energizers with “strong ties” (i.e., people who are deeply connected with a smaller amount of people) are likely to be connected with other energizers (i.e., birds of a feather flock together). The ripple effect is smaller when you energize a bunch of highly like-minded people. To maximize this ripple effect, leaders should look for individuals who have effective, influential relationships with the maximum number of people within an organization. These are your trend-setters. If you can corral their social influence toward becoming positive energizers with those around them, the collective ripple effect can quickly become a tsunami of positive energy.
At LWF, work with our new DRiV™ personality assessment tool is showing that the need for a bigger-picture “purpose” to motivate employees is not universal, but actually an individual preference. While everyone needs goals, not everyone needs something significantly larger than themselves to inspire top performance. Employees who lack a purpose-driven mindset aren’t by definition any less productive or energetic than their peers.
Some people are motivated by the thrill of risk-taking. Others enjoy solving a challenging assignment. Some people’s higher purpose is helping others. And still others – like it or not – are motivated by making money and advancing their careers. We find all kinds in our DRiV research with a variety of organizations.
The risk with this HBR article is its assumption that employee engagement only works by connecting people’s work to something larger and more mission-oriented than themselves. This is simply false.
Instead, as a leader you should strive to learn specifically what energizes (drives) your people and provide each with the necessary fuel. While changing this “fuel intake” may not transform everyone into positive energizers, you will greatly increase your team’s overall engagement by NOT adopting a one-size-fits-all strategy.