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The Power of Purpose

The Power of Purpose
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This month the topic of the power of purpose is inspired by one of our mentors at University of Michigan Ross Business School, Bob Quinn. Bob and co-author Anjan Thakor wrote the cover article in the July – August Harvard Business Review entitled When Work Has Meaning – How to Turn Purpose into Performance.

The article talks about how large teams of people become connected through their purpose in life and become intrinsically motivated to make a difference in the lives of others. This is something that we see time and time again with our clients who clarify their purpose for existing.

One of our clients, The Airlift Company, was doing well but internal strife and conflict made coming to work not as much fun as it could be for the leadership team and many of the employees. There were many individual reasons for “why” they were in business and making decisions, but it became clear that there was no one shared “why” – no shared purpose for all to get behind.

We embarked on a grassroots process that included survey questions followed by individual interviews with team members. The feedback was brutally open and honest which is what we find when team members truly care about their work, and most do. Team members want to help the organization become great, not just “okay”.

Airlift leadership understood the benefit of one team on the same page and closed the factory and operations for a full day off-site retreat. Based on team members’ feedback we compiled components of their core identity – vision, purpose, and guiding principles. At the retreat, team members lobbied with stories of performances at their best to promote the components of their identity they felt must be retained.

The day was energized with leadership listening to stories of Airlift at its best from several of the team members. Emotions ran high and things may have looked a little out of control at times. But the end result was a grassroots creation based on what team members have experienced when at their best, and what they wanted to look like as a company in the future.

This was summed up by one statement they felt could stand for both their purpose and their vision statements: “To be known as the suspension company that helped create better lives.”

Some of the source of much of the discontent was around a specific business segment, which was outside of Air Lift’s core business expertise. They took this vision/purpose statement to heart and realized this business segment was not improving lives so got out of the business segment. The chairman of the board later shared that this seldom happens inside a company. Usually the board has to force the closing of a poorly operating business segment.

The Airlift Company continues to thrive and has doubled its sales since clarifying its shared vision/purpose for existing. Leadership of the Airlift Company is committed to the team members and honoring what they said they want to look like when at their best.