Activating purpose to inspire our people

Written by
Michael Hayman MBE, DL, Co-founder, Seven Hills

01 Mar 2020

01 Mar 2020 • by Michael Hayman MBE, DL, Co-founder, Seven Hills

At a time of demographic disruption, productivity is an inspiration challenge, writes Michael Hayman MBE, DL, co-founder of Seven Hills and co-author of Mission

As Mark Twain said: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” His words are particularly relevant now.

But for too many organisations, joy is not part of the business plan. It is dismissed as frivolous, rather than critical to cultures that endure and organisations that perform at the highest levels. Besides, building teams that enjoy what they are doing is challenging.

In part, this is down to four generations working together in many businesses for the first time in history, according to the British academic Dr Eliza Filby, a shift that has created major tremors in both the harmony of teams and the expectations of generations. By 2025, some 75% of the worlds working population will be millennials. 

She argues that “alongside technological disruption, demographic disruption (changing beliefs, experiences, habits and values) is transforming the world”. 

Business as a force for good is a daily measure

This shift in generational dynamics is being matched by workers’ expectation of purpose-led roles and a focus on impact and contribution from their organisations. Business as a force for good is no longer just a good stump speech for a CEO at Davos, it’s the daily measure by which people judge their places of work. 

When Nick Giles and I wrote Mission, we looked at how great businesses break through. A golden thread in the interviews was their ability to activate their purpose. Not only because it was the right thing to do, but because their purpose was also at the heart of their commercial performance. 

Bain & Co has excellent research that correlates to the relationship between inspired employees and satisfied employees. Those that are inspired buy into a company’s mission because it provides meaning. 

Satisfied employees usually feel safe in their place of work, but this, in itself, doesn’t inspire them to go further. The productivity gap between these two types of worker is about two and a quarter. 

The inspiration challenge

When politicians speak of productivity they might be better framing it as an inspiration challenge. One business that succeeded in this from the outset is supermarket company Whole Foods Market. We interviewed its founder John Mackey at its global HQ in Austin, Texas. 

For him the greatest challenge is creating conscious environments, by which he meant that too many people arrive at work having left the best of themselves at the front door. The result is a largely unconscious relationship with their employers. For Mackey the solution involved “liberating the heroic spirit of business” — an heroic role is much needed in our world, which faces boundless challenges, from climate change to health and wealth inequalities. 

Doing the right thing on purpose

Unleashing that mission is about more than doing the right thing. It’s about doing it on purpose. Businesses need to inspire the people who give them their working lives. Tomorrow’s markets will be driven by commercial solutions to some of the world’s most intractable challenges. 

If you have a purpose, it’s much more than something to refer to in a report about corporate social responsibility, it’s your performance engine. 

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