People over Purpose

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“I’ve got to rescue my friends and save the Earth!”

That’s from a Flash Gordon movie. It flashed through my mind when I read a Wall Street Journal blog post titled “What Keeps You Inspired on the Job?” Here’s the quote that triggered the memory.

“Employers are increasingly trying to inject a greater sense of purpose into their workplaces, crafting inspiring slogans and office mission statements to motivate younger workers who crave greater meaning and connection during their humdrum days.”

Well, dear employers, you can cut back on the inspiring slogans and office mission statements, and not because they all sound the same. The research I’ve read and my experience tell me that most people, most of the time, will work harder for their team members than for a higher purpose, no matter how grand. It’s people, not purpose.

I know, I know, Dan Pink said that purpose was one of the big three factors in self-motivation. I think purpose is important. It’s just not as important as relatedness, the connection to others on the team.

Deci and Ryan say it’s “Relatedness”

Drs. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan are considered the founders of Self-Determination Theory. In her book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work . . . and What Does, Susan Fowler describes them as “the most prominent motivation researchers in the world.” Their research points to Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness as the three pillars of self-motivation.

When the bullets fly

Combat veterans tell a common tale. When the bullets start to fly they’re not fighting for democracy or the United States of America, they’re fighting for each other. When the chips are down, team members will work for each other.

Create strong teams

Forget the plaques and the slogans. Do the things that build strong teams. Select and support good bosses. Reward team performance. Consider team-based incentives. Purpose is important but the most powerful purpose is local, not global.

Boss’s Bottom Line

The team’s the thing. Do the big things to make your team cohesive and productive. Do little things too, like using the words “we,” “us,” and “together” a lot.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Jim Bearden   |   05 Mar 2015   |   Reply

Wally has mastered the art of making powerful points in very few words. This is a classic example. Mission and purpose statements, on their own, have two things in common: they all sound good, and they have little or no impact on employee behavior.

Wally Bock   |   05 Mar 2015   |   Reply

Thanks for the kind words, Jim, and for adding to the conversation.

Josh Dragon   |   06 Mar 2015   |   Reply

First time I have heard the term, “relatedness.” Captures an important concept though.

One thing I have noticed is how important it is to build a team of team players. Not just people who say they are team players, but people who have experience of being on teams. They understand what it means to put the team first.

The self focused mentality of many star/solo players seems to often work against, “relatedness.”

Great post!

Wally Bock   |   06 Mar 2015   |   Reply

Thanks for adding to the conversation, Josh, and thanks for your kind words. I agree. When any team member is “self-focused” it means that he or she isn’t putting the team first.