What Truly Makes a Difference?

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. ~ Helen Keller

Great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Walt Disney always communicated their “why”—the reasons they acted, why they cared and their future hopes. Great business leaders follow suit:

  • Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, believed air travel should be fun and accessible to everyone.
  • Apple’s Steve Wozniak thought everyone should have a computer and, along with Steve Jobs, set out to challenge established corporations’ status quo.
  • Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton believed all people should have access to low-cost goods.
  • Starbucks’ Howard Schultz wanted to create social experiences in cafés resembling those in Italy.

Once company leaders have identified and clearly articulated what they stand for, it’s up to you to build a bridge between the business’ purpose and your own purpose and values:

  • In what way can you make a difference through company products and services?
  • How can you express what truly matters in the work you do?
  • In what ways can you make a difference in the world through the people you work for and with?

Making a Difference

When you share your greater cause and higher purpose, listeners filter the message and decide to trust you (or not). When listeners’ values and purpose resonate with your own, they are primed to become followers who will favorably perceive subsequent messages.

You cannot gain a foothold in someone’s brain by leading with what you want them to do. You must first communicate why it’s important.

Strive to be like the leaders who never lose sight of why they do what they do and why people should care. Only then will you inspire your people to attain sustainable success.

Leaders are the stewards of organizational energy. They recruit, direct, channel, renew, focus and invest energy from all the individual contributors in the service of the corporate mission. The energy of each individual contributor in the corporation must be actively recruited. This requires aligning individual and organizational purpose. ~ Authors James Loehr and Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement

I challenge you to think long and hard about both your personal sense of purpose, and your organization’s purpose where you work. Do you see ways of aligning them?

This is clearly a pathway to finding energy and renewing the enthusiasm you probably felt in the early days on the job. If you struggle with finding purpose, I suggest getting a good coach who can help you find more fulfillment and meaning in how you spend your days.

Let me know if I can help.

Want to Inspire? Start with Why

When a mission statement is well written, it serves as a declaration of purpose. But corporate mission statements are often little more than a descriptive sentence about products, aspirations or desired public perceptions. They’re more powerful when they clearly and specifically articulate the difference your business strives to make in the world.

Here’s an example from Roy Spence’s book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For:

Consider this mission statement by a large grocery chain: “Our goal is to be the first choice for those customers who have the opportunity to shop locally in [our stores]. To achieve this goal [we] aim to be best at fresh, best at availability, best at customer service, best at product and price.”

It’s a long list of what the company will be best at, but nothing about customers, employees, communities or society. Compare that with another food chain’s mission statement:

To help consumers find foods that offer more nutrition for the calories as they make choices in each department of our stores, thereby helping food shoppers make healthier choices.

Which statement do you find more engaging? If your mission statement isn’t compelling and engaging, you can’t expect employees to care, can you?

Leaders who want to succeed should straightforwardly communicate what they believe in and why they’re so passionate about their cause, according to business consultant Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio, 2010).

Most people know what they do and how they do it, Sinek says, but few communicate why they’re doing it.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy into why you do it,” he emphasizes.

If you don’t know and cannot communicate why you take specific actions, how can you expect employees to become loyal followers who support your mission?

The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. ~ James Baldwin, author

I’d love to hear from you: what’s been your experience with the mission statements of the companies you’ve worked for?

Determining a Business Purpose

The more I speak with people working hard in organizations, the less I see a “9 to 5″ mentality. As work evolves in the 21st century, separating our professional and personal lives proves to be an artificial divide. Your personal purpose influences your work purpose, and vice versa.

A company’s purpose  starts with its leaders and their vision, then infiltrates through the organization and people. It shows up in products, services, and employee and customer experiences.

An inspirational purpose often lies hidden within an organization. The following suggestions will help you identify and articulate key elements:

  1. Revisit your organization’s heritage (past history).
  2. Review successes. At what does the business excel?
  3. Start asking “why?”
  4. What won’t your organization do? Review false starts and failures.
  5. Interview employees.
  6. Interview top leaders.
  7. Interview high performers.
  8. Talk to customers.
  9. Follow your intuition and/or heart.

Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your calling. ~ Aristotle

A purpose is informed by the world’s needs. When you build an organization with a tangible purpose in mind — one that fills a real need in the marketplace — performance will follow.

Ask the following questions:

  • Why does your organization do what it does?
  • Why is this important to the people you serve?
  • Why does your organization’s existence matter?
  • What is its functional benefit to customers and constituents?
  • What is the emotional benefit to them?
  • What is the ultimate value to your customer?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • At what can you excel?
  • What drives your economic engine?

Mission statements used to have a purpose. The purpose was to force management to make hard decisions about what the company stood for. A hard decision means giving up one thing to get another.  ~ Seth Godin, marketing expert

Energy and Creative Flow

Having a purpose provides context for all of one’s efforts, and it’s a chief criterion for “flow”—the energy state that occurs when one’s mind, body and entire being are committed to the task at hand. Flow turns mundane work into completely absorbing experiences, allowing us to push the limits of skills and talents.

Flow and commitment also create healthier, happier employees, while driving innovative thinking. To tap into full engagement, leaders must clearly identify and articulate what truly matters to the company:

  • Why are we in business?
  • What difference do we want to make in the world?
  • What’s our most important purpose?

On some level, everyone wants to live a purposeful life, yet we are distracted by societal pressures to achieve wealth and status. There are indications, however, that this is changing. Just as GNP fails to reflect the well-being and satisfaction of a country’s citizens, a person’s net worth actually has little to do with personal fulfillment.

It is difficult to impossible to truly inspire the creators of customer happiness — the employees — with the ethic of profit maximization…It is my experience that employees can get very excited and inspired by a business that has an important business purpose. ~ John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market

Leadership starts on a personal level and permeates one’s function in a company, community and society. While countless books address the importance of finding personal purpose, how does it play out within an organizational context? How do you link your personal purpose and values to those of your company?

It may seem that parts of your job are mundane and insignificant, you do not see your contribution to the greater purpose. Perhaps your organization hasn’t articulated their purpose, vision and values clearly enough. I see this happen frequently in the organizations where I’m called on to contribute workshops, work with teams and coaching.

What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.

Do You Find Your Work Fulfilling?

In a company without purpose, people have only a vague idea of why they are do what do. There’s always activity and busyness, but it’s often frenetic, disorganized and focused solely on short-term goals or finances. There is often a lack of direction and commitment without purpose or ‘we are doing this for the sake of what?’.

Top executives erroneously look to the competition when making decisions, rather than making up their own minds about what really matters. Their lack of clarity leads to poor business decisions, failed product launches and disengaged employees.

“Across organizations, nearly every survey suggests that the vast majority of employees don’t feel fully engaged at work, valued for their contributions, or freed and trusted to do what they do best,” reports Tony Schwartz in a recent  HBR.org blog post. “Instead, they feel weighed down by multiple demands and distractions, and they often don’t derive much meaning or satisfaction from their work. That’s a tragedy for millions of people and a huge lost opportunity for organizations.”

Absence of Full Engagement

Simply put, satisfied and engaged employees perform better. In a Towers Watson study of roughly 90,000 employees across 18 countries, companies with the most engaged employees reported a 19% increase in operating income and 28% growth in earnings per share. Companies whose employees had the lowest level of engagement had a 32% decline in operating income and an 11% drop in earnings.

People take pleasure in being engaged in meaningful work. Humans, by nature, are a passionate species, and most of us seek out inspiring experiences. Companies that recognize this and actively cultivate and communicate a worthwhile corporate purpose become employers of choice.

A major Gallup Organization research study identified 12 critical elements for creating highly engaged employees. About half deal with employees’ sense of belonging. One of the key criteria is captured in the following statement: “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”

After basic needs are fulfilled, an employee searches for meaning in a job. People seek a higher purpose, something in which to believe, to contribute to the greater good. If, in your role as a leader, you aren’t articulating what you care about and how you plan to make a difference, then you probably aren’t inspiring full engagement.

In the work I do, this is a major concern for people: they either aren’t sure what it is that their own true purpose is, and/or their not sure what their organization’s is. Coaching is designed to help people find the connection between job requirements and fulfillment and meaning.

If you aren’t clear, ask your coach for help in finding answers. And if you need help in finding the right coach, let me know.

Why Are You Here? Connecting to What Truly Matters

Knowing why you’re here, and who you want to be, isn’t a part-time job. The challenge is to live out what you stand for, intentionally, in every moment. ~ Tony Schwartz, author

Purpose and values are more than touchy-feely concepts touted by motivational speakers. They  have been identified as key drivers of high-performing organizations.

  • In Built to Last, James Collins and Jerry Porras reveal that purpose- and values-driven organizations outperformed the general market and comparison companies by 15:1 and 6:1, respectively.
  • In Corporate Culture and Performance, Harvard professors John Kotter and James Heskett found that firms with shared-values–based cultures enjoyed 400% higher revenues, 700% greater job growth, 1,200% higher stock prices and significantly faster profit performance, as compared to companies in similar industries.
  • In Firms of Endearment, marketing professor Rajendra Sisodia and his coauthors explain how companies that put employees’ and customers’ needs ahead of shareholders’ desires outperform conventional competitors in stock-market performance by 8:1.

Leaders who have a clearly articulated purpose and are driven to make a difference can inspire people to overcome insurmountable odds, writes Roy M. Spence Jr. in It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For.

“Life is short, so live it out doing something that you care about,” he writes. “Try to make a difference the best way you can. There’s an enormous satisfaction in seeing the cultural transformation that happens when an organization is turned on to purpose.”

This author makes some very good points backed up with real examples of some of the most effective companies in the world. In the work I do with people in organizations, so often I find that there’s confusion over what’s really important.

While a well-designed strategy and its effective implementation are required for business success, neither inspires followers to sustained engagement. Purpose speaks to people’s hearts and helps them contribute their best when the chips are down.

Don’t ever take a job— join a crusade! Find a cause that you can believe in and give yourself to it completely. ~ Colleen Barrett, president emerita of Southwest Airlines

It’s up to leaders to find that spark that can light up the hearts and minds of employees at all levels. And, it’s also up to each of us to find that inner purpose that’s the guiding light for our energy. Coaching can help find it if you haven’t already identified and articulated it for yourself.

5 More Strategies for Successful Goals

I’m following up on the great strategies Heidi Grant Halvorson writes about in her book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Most people don’t take goal setting seriously and never get beyond just thinking about them, rather than writing, planning and implementing.

In my last post I explained the first four strategies for effective goal setting [link to previous post]:

  1. Be specific (for both goals and obstacles)
  2. Seize the moment
  3. Accurately gauge the distance
  4. Be a realistic optimist

Here are the next five goal-setting strategies that successful people use:

 

  1. Focus on Getting Better, Rather Than Being Good. When faced with a new and difficult project, budget the time needed to get a handle on it. It’s OK to make mistakes. Take advantage of others’ expertise and ask for help. Don’t compare yourself to others — only to your past performance. Are you improving? 
  2. Have Grit. Grit is the willingness to commit to long-term goals and endure in spite of difficulties. Improvement is alwayspossible. Successful professionals understand that their abilities are far from fixed. They believe they can improve through practice. 
  3. Strengthen Your Willpower Muscle. Willpower is depleted with use. Rest helps you recover quickly and remain positive. Reinforce your willpower muscle with small tasks: Take the stairs, make your bed, and show up on time. 
  4. Don’t Tempt Fate. If you hang around a barber shop, you’ll eventually get a haircut. Stick with the winners. Avoid thinking you can cheat “just a little.” 
  5. Focus on What You Will Do — Not on What You Won’t Do. Many goals involve not doing something. Framing them in this way strengthens self-sabotaging impulses. Substitute if/then planning: “If I feel the urge to ________, then I will_______ instead.”

I think one of the smartest suggestions is using “if/then” scenario planning. When you’re prepared in advance for obstacles and setbacks, you jump right back in with your plan B.

What do you think about these strategies? Which of them are you already using? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

4 Strategies for Successful Goals

I’m following up on successful goal setting tips from the book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently by Heidi Grant Halvorson. These nine strategies are based on decades of research on the key factors that influence performance. They are relatively straightforward and easy to apply, but the trick is to avoid skipping them because they seem “obvious.”

Few people set goals, use goals effectively or take them seriously. In fact, only 1% of today’s professionals actually write down, track and review their goals, according to author Dan Zadra in 5: Where Will You Be in 5 Years from Today? Here are the first four strategies from Halvorson’s book:

  1. 1.      Be Specific. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated. Outline what you must do on a daily basis to realize your desired results. Which actions must you take to be a better manager/spouse/parent/friend or perhaps eat more healthfully? What will success look like when you’re there?

Thousands of studies show that specificity is one of the most critical, yet overlooked, steps for reaching any goal. Also be specific about the obstacles in your way and how you will respond to them.

  1. Seize the Moment. Predetermine when and where you’ll take action to avoid the traps of distractions and other competing commitments. The best tactic is “if/then” planning: If X happens, I will do Y.

    Studies show this approach works because it uses the brain’s language: contingencies. The brain excels at remembering and using “if/then” language. You can execute your plan without consciously thinking about it because you’ve decided in advance how to proceed.

  2. 3.      Accurately Gauge the Distance. Decide how often you’ll evaluate your progress. Determine where you’ll gather information: Can you self-assess, or will you need others’ feedback? Create reminders to perform your assessments. To stay motivated, remind yourself of the tasks that remain for goal completion.

  3. Be a Realistic Optimist. If you’re full of self-doubt, recall some of the goals you’ve achieved in the past and what it took to pull them off. Visualize how you’ll deal with looming challenges. What’s your Plan B? Use if/then planning.

What Successful People Do Differently

Why do some people succeed and others flounder? Over the years, in my experience coaching various people, I’ve often asked myself that question.

How do successful people set the stage for the ‘what’s next’, next promotion, best results, or stellar performance? One might wonder does it take:

Research shows that measures of innate ability (like IQ) poorly predict who succeeds or stumbles. A recent book by Columbia Business School Professor Heidi Grant Halvorson summarizes Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.

“Being successful is not about winning the DNA lottery; it’s about reaching goals,” she writes. “It’s about making smart choices, using the right strategies and taking action.”

Decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their personal and professional goals because of what they do not because of who they are. Luckily, everything they do can be learned, practiced and mastered.

All About the Goals

Implementation of effective strategies and persistence ultimately determine who’s more likely to succeed. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. Your ability to set specific goals, see and seize opportunities and take action primes the accomplishment pump.

Success comes to those who believe they can succeed, but it also requires a specific plan that won’t be abandoned, even during tough times. Winners also know that success may not come easily, but they remain focused on progress, monitor milestones and recognize what still needs to be done. They don’t let up.

True Grit

High performers have grit. They know obstacles are inevitable, a part of the process and find a way around them. They develop their abilities by finding solutions to setbacks. They build willpower by using it like a muscle—anticipating when they’re vulnerable, avoiding temptations, and preparing contingency plans and coping strategies.

They focus on what they will do, rather than what they won’t do — a tactic that fosters positive energy. They know success depends on adapting to challenges and persisting, even when they’re ready to wave the white flag.

Now, you may think that some people are born lucky and naturally have what it takes, but I say no, not everyone. I’ve seen enough people come into coaching and leave with positive outcomes to know you can learn to successfully complete goals, with the help of coaching.

If you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing. Let me know if I can help.

Personal Proficiency

Leaders are learners, and their classroom is everywhere. We learn from our mistakes, successes, books, coworkers, bosses, friends and life itself.

Leaders know what matters to them. They inspire loyalty and goodwill in others because they act with integrity and trust. They can be bold and courageous, while tolerating ambiguity, uncertainty and crises.

You are not solely defined by what you do or know. In fact, there’s a lot you don’t know about yourself because everyone has limited vision and blind spots. We err in thinking. We jump to conclusions. We have poor communication habits that could definitely improve.

Personal proficiency takes time, vigilance and help from others. If you’re not working with a mentor or executive coach, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to build proficiency. I would love to help, contact me today.