In the shadow of the great resignation, leaders are now waking up to the long-standing reality that talented people serve as “paid volunteers,” and the paycheck alone doesn’t hold them to the job as it did in previous generations. Leaders must recognize that the best talent knows it can go anywhere. Purpose and a sense of belonging, along with a paycheck, motivate good people to remain and sustain amazing communities.
Jim Collins, who penned the leadership classic Good to Great, suggested businesses adopt a BHAG, the acronym for “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” While Collins had extraordinary business performance in mind when he thought of BHAGs, it’s clear today that employees, whether at corporations or non-governmental organizations, want their leaders to be bold and rally them toward a purpose that achieves a greater good.
Pressing Problems Cannot Be Ignored
Around the globe, we face pressing population health challenges. Non-communicable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental health issues become more common and continue their destructive trajectories. To add to the dangers, some 16 million Americans – the most vulnerable – may soon be without Medicaid-related health coverage when COVID emergency coverage comes to an abrupt end.
As a result, our medical system may soon be overwhelmed by the public health and access-to-care burdens society will soon face. Providers, payers, patients, and product health communications within the health ecosystem must recognize that the collaborative search for solutions is in everyone’s best interests.
Climate change is also putting our health at risk. The increase in floods, drought, extreme heat, wildfires and hurricanes could cost the American economy $2 trillion a year by the end of the century, according to the Office of Management and Budget – that is a 7.1% hit to earning power. We have yet to come to terms with the reality that our health and the well-being of future generations are dependent on the earth’s ability to sustain us.
People Seek and Want Deeper Connection
We cannot tackle climate change alone, nor can we overcome and discover cures for disease as individuals. Businesses can make a big contribution here, effecting change and providing the purpose that employees increasingly seek. Leaders have the opportunity to drive collective action that engages their employees, rallying them to work together toward something more meaningful than their daily punch list alone.
Companies are organized and geared toward selling products and services for profit. Their leaders are in turn measured by return on investment and shareholder value. While they pursue organizational goals, companies must consider how they align business interests to social issues no longer hidden from sight. By doing so, they create stronger market relevance by bonding with their employees and customers and supporting policymakers who define the business environment in which they operate. Purpose is a win-win-win proposition.
Here are five important considerations – mindsets – for creating communities of purpose that can enable leaders to rally their people to take on shared societal challenges:
1. Cultivate Collaboration: Organizations often set out to construct identities for themselves, but it’s not marketing that makes a company significant, it’s shared values. The test of a culture is how willing your people are to put everything aside during adversity and ask, “How can I help, and what do you need?” That culture of collaboration creates the mindset that together, everything is possible. Collins recognizes President Kennedy’s call to action to land a man on the moon as a spur that required American engineers, mathematicians, and computer and medical scientists to collaborate to succeed.
2. Abolish CYA (Cover Your) …Behavior: Who among us hasn’t had an experience with a coach, manager, or leader who used blame, shame, and threats to motivate? It might work for a short time, but it’s abusive and wrong. The result is a CYA culture in which no one takes risks, and people become experts in not having the finger pointed at them. No one does outstanding work; even the organization’s stars don’t stick around long.
Influential leaders don’t waste time looking to blame. They seek to understand, share learnings, demonstrate empathy, and get people back on track. While punitive leadership buries progress and purpose, an enduring commitment to creating the best possible place to work opens people to dreaming, thinking, and working big.
3. Be a Learning Organization: So, you made a mistake. Don’t feel intimidated or upset; share what you’ve learned. The greatest thing we can do to foster knowledge is to share information. We are all each other’s teachers, and in sharing successes and failures equally, we make a higher level of achievement possible. In learning organizations, people feel valued because their risks are rewarded, they’re supported emotionally and elevated professionally, resulting in heightened performance levels.
4. Form a More Perfect Union through Diversity: An engaged workforce is a key business driver. Conversely, Gallup has estimated that the cost of disengagement—in the form of turnover, low productivity, and low morale, can come at the expense of 18% of salary. In a community with a strong culture dedicated to a shared vision, we must have many “on the bus;” as Collins has suggested, we want to make sure that everyone finds the right seat, doing what they do better than anyone else.
To rise toward perfection, we want to attain and stay true to the culture we seek to form. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are requirements for communities to thrive. Leaders must tap varied life perspectives to enable people to drive forward together.
5.Align Doing Well and Doing Good: It is arduous to sustain a company if business fundamentals aren’t prioritized. But if it’s only about a business’s performance, for employees, work becomes “time to make the donuts,” and after the newness rubs off, it loses meaning. Purpose does not require companies to abandon business goals. It does not mean that effective production or service is secondary to “doing good.” If a company has strong business fundamentals in place and aligns them with goals for sustainability or social impact, it is likely to perform consistently better.
Careers provide us with employment and a secure paycheck, but is that enough to sustain body, planet, and soul? During his short yet powerful life, philosopher and poet Kahlil Gibran wrote: “To understand the heart and mind, look not at what he has already achieved, but what he aspires to.”
Communities united in purpose achieve results; this is the next challenge for business leaders. To create and foster high-performing employee communities, business leaders must align their people, head and heart, with greater purpose. That is a BHAG worthy of aspiring to.