As we continue a slog through a tough economy, I've noticed a dilemma facing many companies vis-à-vis motivating their employees. Whereas the sports world affords the clarity of a tangible, meaningful goal, such as the World Series or Super Bowl, in which every member of the team is in complete alignment to pursue, business doesn't have it that easy.
And, in a down environment, it's much more common for employees to feel their work is just that: work.
It's hard to imagine each Major League Baseball team playing 162 games during the year and everyone then going home. It sounds absurd because what's the purpose of playing all those games if it doesn't really matter.
There has to be a purpose. But what is your purpose?
The challenge is even more complicated. It's twofold. First, what is your company's purpose? Is it clear and compelling? And then, is your own team's role in pursuing that purpose crystal clear and equally compelling?
Perhaps your company wants to be recognized as the undisputed market leader in its category. Is that enough? Probably not... Purpose should usually be linked to values important to the marketplace.
Market share isn't a value. Being the “most trusted bank,” “the best customer-service retailer,” or “the most innovative consumer products company” gets a lot closer. Think Zappos, Apple, Nike, IBM.
And then the trick is metrics. What's your current performance? How do you define your standard? Is it just your competition? The best companies compare themselves to the best in class, regardless of industry.
Also, the metrics should be public, whether a well-respected industry analyst publishes them, or it's a leading trade journal or a business press outlet. Public accountability–with improved performance–is motivating. If the metrics are proprietary they're not terribly inspiring.
If you can get your company–and your team–to embrace the importance of this singular pursuit, then you have begun to create an environment that inspires. You'll also have people work for a higher purpose.
Work must have context and meaning. Sure, there are days we just grind it out. But that gets pretty boring. A higher purpose, a strong sense of the whole team pulling in the same direction and achieving something that is valued by the marketplace – now that's something compelling and worth working for.
That, I submit, is our World Series.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.