by Dan Bruder, author of “The Blendification System: Activating Potential by Connecting Culture, Strategy, and Execution“
In nearly every discussion about an organization’s cause (also referred to as vision, mission, or purpose), there is emphasis on pursuing something significant. Having a common cause is a critical component of defining the organization’s potential, and it provides motivational energy for employees to chase something greater than a paycheck.
The reasons for having a clearly articulated organizational cause are widely known. Yet, many leaders fail to develop a cause for their company or, potentially worse, they create a mission statement that is not connected to the employees, customers, or communities. So, what exactly is the cost to organizations of not having a strong and meaningful cause?
When organizations lack a clear, connected, and inspiring cause, the impacts go far beyond failing short of revenue and profit potential. Many times, organizational leaders believe that everyone in the company is motivated by the same thing they are: financial wealth and independence. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As Gustavo Grodnitsky writes in his book, “Culture Trumps Everything“, “People work harder for a cause than for cash… cash is the most expensive way to motivate employees.”
Leaders have very few “tools” to align and activate the potential of employees. Without a clear, connected, and inspiring cause, leaders choose to show up at a gun fight with a knife. They are not well equipped for success. One of the primary tools leaders have is their ability to align focus within an organization.
Focus is like a color spectrum. At any time, my focus is somewhere on the “focus spectrum.” At one end, my focus is on the red side, where it is holding me and others back. On the other end of the spectrum, the green side, my focus is on outcomes and solutions, thereby moving me and others forward. Zeroing in a little more on the focus spectrum, when my focus is on me and what I want, my behaviors become self-centered and the team sees right though my motives. Alternatively, when my focus is on others, or people centric, I can generate support and energy within the team.
A clear, connected, and inspiring cause allows leaders to align the organizational focus on a significant pursuit. When your company has a strong cause, employees’ daily work:
- Moves from going through the motions to having meaning
- Shifts from drifting to direction
- Connects activity with clarity
The ability to align organizational, department, and team focus on something larger than myself is one of the most essential and impactful leadership tools available. However, there is a significant cost if a leader is not equipped with the ability to align focus and actions around a cause. Most often, the following happens:
Anchored focus gives way to aimless focus.
Without a meaningful cause, major external events and minor distractions become reasons to focus on something that does not drive the organization forward. Having a clear cause acts as an organizational and leadership anchor to keep everyone grounded in turbulent times.
Creativity is replaced by complacency.
When a new employee starts work, they are like a child. They are excited and see tremendous opportunities. Unfortunately for many new employees, their excitement diminishes after discovering the company is not making the impact that was represented in the interview. They do not typically leave right away; worse, they become disengaged.
Work becomes a burden rather than a boost.
When leaders are unable to connect employees’ work with a larger meaning, the daily mundane tasks drain their energy. When there is a common focus on a cause and employees see how their work has meaning, their work becomes energizing.
The best employees leave, and the worst employees stay.
Motivated employees seeking challenges and wanting to be a part of a legacy team become disengaged, discouraged, and, ultimately, leave so they can fulfill their potential somewhere else. The company is left with a large contingency of employees that justifies mediocrity for a steady paycheck.
Managers fail to realize their potential as a leader.
Without having an overarching cause for the company, leaders lack the power to align focus, which effectively inhibits their ability to enhance their leadership skills. When leaders can direct focus to a common cause and use this as a leadership anchor, they inherently help others stay motivated and fulfilled. When doing this, leaders take a significant step on the journey to realizing their personal potential.
When everything is added up, having something meaningful to pursue in the company becomes the foundation for motivation, fulfillment, and success. When an organizational cause is lacking, the prior costs highlighted above accumulate over time. In the best case, the result is a culture that does not foster high performance and outcomes. The worst case: total culture collapse.
Generally, we don’t know the cost of not doing something we have never done. That is the old saying, “We don’t miss what we never had.” Consequently, organizations that operate without a foundational cause likely do not see the benefit of having this powerful leadership anchor, alignment tool, and sustained motivating factor. On the other hand, companies with a clear cause that becomes part of the organization’s DNA understand and embrace this concept as a critical asset for leading the organization and empowering the employees that choose to work there.
Dan Bruder is the CEO of Fusion Dynamics Group, an Instructor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an Instructor of Strategy and Leadership at Colorado State University’s Executive MBA program. His new book is “The Blendification System: Activating Potential by Connecting Culture, Strategy, and Execution“. Learn more at https://www.amazon.com/Blendification-System-Activating-Potential-Connecting/dp/036781935X. Or visit www.BlendificationSystem.com.