When the Business Journal indicates that the top five companies of the year have something in common, it is important to take notice. This past year, the top five Minnesota companies had this in common – they have defined why they exist. Defining a purpose for a business is not just happy talk anymore – it is critical for many reasons.
First, it is how we are wired as humans. In his bestselling book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek uses the latest in brain research that inspiration, purpose, and meaning actually trigger a multitude of chemicals in our brains that motivate us to want to work. If you are not tapping into that part of your employees as leaders, or you are working for a company that has not defined its purpose, you are missing out on a lot of energy that can be brought to work. But most companies have not taken the time to do this, or are so wrapped up in day to day work that they do not know why they exist. That is part of the reason the employee engagement statistics year over year are so low, with a good % even sabotaging the very organization they work for.
This shouldn’t surprise people of faith at all. In the gospels, Jesus speaks in a parable of the man going away on a journey, about each one of us being on earth with assigned tasks we are given to accomplish. Ephesians 2:10 reinforces this by Paul saying: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In other words, we are all on assignment. If you think about it, when every employee is on assignment, then guess what, the company is also on assignment! A vast majority of the people in what I call the “Hall of Fame” of faith in the book of Hebrews were actually business people, not clergy, where God gave them tasks to fulfill.
Why is this so? It’s interesting that EY Beacon, and organization committed to purpose in organizations teamed up with the Harvard Business Review analytics team and did a worldwide study of top executives about what is the ROI of purpose. They listed many reasons, but I will quote the top five here:
- An organization with shared purpose will have employee satisfaction
- People will more likely recommend a company with strong purpose to others
- Business transformation efforts will have more success if integrated with purpose
- Purpose driven firms deliver higher-quality products/services
- An organization with shared purpose will have greater customer loyalty
Let me share a few stories on what the power of purpose can mean in companies. To begin with, an important local company discovered this a long time ago – Medtronic. They now have an annual Christmas party that allows the employee’s to hear testimonies about how their products have saved lives for people. Bill George talked long ago while he was CEO about them discovering that one employee was better at harvesting heart valves from animals than anyone else by far. He decided to visit with her and see what made her so good. As he began the interview with her, she said this:” I know that every valve I harvest is going to end up in a human being, on which their life will depend.” Talk about motivation.
A second story is well known in business legend. When the chemists at Merck organization, who is committed to enhancing health and wellbeing around the world, discovered a way to prevent river blindness in developing countries, they went to the CEO and told him that they had this chemical that would alleviate suffering for millions in the world, but they could not find a way to make it profitably. The CEO thought about their purpose, and said make it anyway.
One more well-known story. Costco, in the 1990’s had made a commitment to a business model where they would take name brand clothing that they had gotten at a deep discount and mark it up an agreed upon % and then sell it in their stores. They had received a huge amount of jeans from a well-known manufacturer, and one of the executives around the CEO said: “we could make a larger profit if we mark these jeans up twice as much as we usually do.” The CEO at Costco said no. “We have committed to our customers to only mark it up so much, and we will keep our promise to being a low cost provider of quality clothing.”
Why an organization exists is equivalent of knowing what assignment God has given you in the world, and is also deeply motivating to the younger generations, who will change jobs for lesser pay, many times, to be part of an organization that is, and buy from organizations who are committed to something beyond the bottom line.
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