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On your search for higher levels of loyalty, trust and profitability you must connect the business and your people to a deeper sense of purpose.
When David Archibald Stirling founded the SAS in the summer of 1941, he had a problem on his hands. Having recruited 66 of the brightest rogue warriors he could find, he now faced the formidable task of forming them into a coherent fighting unit without losing any of the maverick qualities that had led him to recruit them in the first place. “In a sense, they weren’t really controllable”, he said in a 1987 interview. “They all had this individuality, so the object was to give them the same sense of purpose.” And in that simple yet astute observation, Stirling captured perhaps the very essence of what makes a collection of individuals into a team; and not just any team but a team capable of making an impact way beyond the sum of its individual parts – a compelling and common sense of purpose that unites us and ignites the spirit within us.
How to Create Employee Sense of Purpose
We’re well accustomed to giving staff goals, objectives and targets to achieve. Most businesses have a Vision, Mission and set of Values on their websites and pinned to the walls somewhere around the office. But how well do these things truly motivate us from day to day and month in, year out? It’s not that they don’t matter – quite the reverse, in fact – but do they move us? Do they speak to our core beliefs and inspire us the way a sense of purpose can do?
How about these examples of a company Vision…
“The Company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.”
“Profitable growth through superior customer service, innovation, quality and commitment.”
Not the most heartfelt of Visions. But how about this from Southwest Airlines, the world’s largest low-cost carrier, famed for achieving 46 consecutive years of profitability and maximising employee sense of purpose…
Our Vision – To become the world’s most loved, most flown and most profitable airline.
Our Purpose – Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.
Think about that Purpose statement for a moment. “Connect people to what’s important in their lives…” From Founder Herb Kelleher to CEO Gary Kelly right on down the line, Southwest staff identify on a very personal level with what really matters to passengers and consistently go the extra mile to ensure they connect them to it on time and with a smile. A wedding, a family gathering, a business trip, a holiday, a honeymoon. Every seat on the plane has a story to tell and it’s hardwired into the corporate DNA of every Southwest employee that connecting people to those important life events is 100% why they do what they do.
Southwest are renowned for bringing Purpose and Vision to life through the Values and Behaviours they espouse – empty slogans are not for them; as Herb Kelleher put it; “Without a heart, the business is just a machine.” They harness the power of real-life stories told by passengers and staff alike on their company intranet and social media pages, stories that open a window into the beating heart of Southwest’s Vision and Purpose for all to see and for staff to emulate. A child flying to St Louis for specialist medical care; a lovers’ reunion; a new job and a new town … “Just get me there on time, no hassle … make it a pleasure, not a pain in the rear end.”
Bestselling author Daniel Pink speaks of the need deep within us all to feel we have a sense of Purpose with a capital ‘P’, which is about contributing to something grand and deep – the greater good of society, shall we say. He talks, too, about our need to have a sense of purpose with a small ‘p’, such as simply knowing why we’re doing a thing, how it fits into the bigger picture and feeling like we’re somehow making a valid contribution to that. Both are so often missing from the work that we do but if we want people to direct their energy, talent and commitment to the things that matter most, it’s vital we make those connections crystal clear.
Whether we’re pilots or baggage handlers, CEOs or fresh out of college, we all need to feel the work we do has purpose, meaning and impact. Speak to the heart and the mind will surely follow.