A Noble Purpose Workshop Brings Out the Beast, and the Best in People

12/07/2015 07:00 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2016

What would happen if your organization didn't exist? If you closed your doors tomorrow, would the world miss you? That's the first question we ask when we run a Noble Purpose workshop. The answers are surprising.

We hear everything from, "nothing would change" to "the world would fall apart."

When employees tell us, "if we closed our doors, the world wouldn't change at all," we know the organization has a big problem. When employees don't believe their organization serves any purpose to the world, other than money, their work becomes transactional.

When employees say, "The world needs us desperately." We know that they're more engaged. The 2015 Workforce Purpose Index (from NYU and Imperative) revealed that 28 percent of the workforce is purpose-oriented, and that workers with a purpose-orientation are the most valuable high potential segment of the workforce.

What's interesting is the polarization between people and organizations with purpose mindset versus those with a transactional approach. Here are the three scenarios we see in our Noble Purpose workshop:

1. High engagement - In highly engaged cultures, the majority of people believe that their work has a higher purpose. These types of organizations attract a disproportionate number of the high-performing purpose-oriented workers. In these organizations, people are on fire for the cause of their business. To suggest that work is a mere transaction is an affront to their ethos. In this kind of environment employees who believe that work is just a paycheck are generally regarded as low performing outliers. Typically they wind up leaving or being asked to leave because they have a chilling effect on others.

2. Transactional - In a transactional organization (the most common type) the prevailing belief is that business exists to make money. The Workforce Purpose Index revealed that 72 percent of the workforce defines work around financial gain or achieving social status and advancement. Organizations filled with these kinds of people can be effective, but they're rarely outstanding, and they're never differentiated. When purpose-oriented employees find themselves in this type of environment, they're bewildered. If they voice their beliefs about purpose, they're seen as unrealistic idealists who don't understand the realities of work. This is unfortunate, because as the study revealed, purpose-oriented workers do significantly better in employee evaluations. Hardly the people you want to silence.

3. Hopeful Middle - These organizations are filled with people of both types. The difference here is the employees with a transactional mindset are often tentative purpose-yearners in disguise. They want their work to mean more than money, but they're not sure its possible, or that leadership will buy in. These organizations are at a potential tipping point. When we provide data and techniques to bring a sense of purpose to life, and help purpose-oriented people spread the word, we show the transactional people what's possible. When this is successful, it puts the organization on a bigger bolder, more engaging and ultimately more profitable path. As Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative and author of The Purpose Economy writes, "Imagine a workforce where purpose-oriented workers are the majority." Yet if it's just words, with no action, employees yearning for purpose, become even more dispirited.

You can bring out the best in people by tapping into their desire for meaning and purpose. Or you can make it all about money, but once you unleash the self-absorbed all about me greed beast, it has an insatiable appetite.

Lisa McLeod is the creator of the popular business concept Noble Purpose and author of the bestseller, Selling with Noble Purpose. She is a sales leadership consultant and keynote speaker. Organizations like Genentech, Google, and Kaiser hire her to help them grow revenue.