We know (see Daniel Pink’s TED talk) that employees are motivated by personal growth, autonomy, and being connected to a bigger purpose. Leaders can provide a continuous learning experience through challenging projects, training, and by supporting Kaizen. They can also grant more autonomy to teams. In technology companies this is pretty much necessary to get anything accomplished anyway.
But how many leaders can offer a truly compelling purpose?
Not just for investors and customers, but for employees. I am not not talking about “saving the world” in any altrustic sense. I mean something that is challenging, will have a visible impact in the world, will be highly valued by customers, and is inspiring to be a part of: a cause.
Causes that have gained a lot of traction include “to be the fabric of real-time communication on the web” (Skype), “giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” (Facebook), “connecting people with what’s important to them” (Twitter), and “organizing and making available the world’s information” (Google).
Hot startups attract bright and talented people, not just because there is a potential for a big financial payoff, but because we as humans derive much of the meaning of our lives from what we do in our careers. Sure, with the high unemployment rates we see in the US and Europe today, it is easier to recruit people who “need” a job. But that’s not true for A-players, who often have a job already or at least have many good options to choose from.
Consider companies that are struggling to innovate and ask yourself what their big, compelling cause is. Microsoft’s vision used to be “a computer in every home and on every desk”. Well, that happened. What is their cause now? What about Yahoo? Can anyone say what Yahoo’s compelling cause is?
Obviously, an exciting cause is not enough. The world is full of companies with a seemingly exciting cause coupled with disasterous execution. But without a clear purpose, a company easily loses focus and the best people will be looking for a more inspiring place to be. Or, if there is an opportunity to cash out, they will stay just long enough for the big payoff, and then leave.
Here is what Steve Jobs said in a 2005 Stanford commencement speech:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
I think this applies to leaders too. If your employees think your company is boring, it probably IS boring. Do something about it.