Purpose or Performance Driven Organization?

How Creating the Right Culture Can Defy Assumptions About An Effort-Averse Workforce

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Executives who lead an organization’s workforce to reach economic returns will tell you that when that workforce is not performing up to their potential and when employees disengage, the response is usually tighter oversight and control.

According to Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor, the authors of “Creating A Purpose-Driven Organization”, business school teaches us that organizations are contractual and relationships are transactional. The “principal-agent” concept, which is the standard economic model for describing an organization’s relationships with its workers, says that the employer and the employee form a work contract, which states that for a certain amount of money the employee will provide a certain amount of labor.

In the Harvard Business Review article, the authors continue to say that “since effort is personally costly, the employee underperforms in providing it unless the employer puts contractual incentives and control systems in place to counter that tendency”.

In many industries, purpose has become all to popular, even leaders who don’t believe it face pressure from board members, investors, employees and other stakeholders to articulate a higher purpose. But, in healthcare purpose and meaning is inherently present. There is meaning to doing work that helps relieve pain and suffering from the most vulnerable and tremendous reward in seeing the healing of patients get better.

Despite the inherent nature of purpose and meaning being present in healthcare, health systems still need to set up performance sharing programs to incentivize employees to work towards organizational goals and objectives. The transformation of the healthcare industry is beginning to challenge the doctrine of medicine as a profession valuing service to the patient above financial reward. Financial success, the measure of competition with service and quality in the marketplace, the dominance of market driven clinical expertise and the preeminence of biomedical and technological advances that set an institution apart from others will pose challenges to focusing leadership that is driven by performance or purpose.

There are 8 steps Quinn and Thakor outline as a framework for how organizations can embrace purpose and overcome the cynical “transactional” view of employee motivation.

Envision an Inspired Workforce

If you can find one positive example, a person, a team, a unit that exceeds the norms, you can inspire others. Look for excellence and then imagine it imbuing your entire workforce.

Discover The Purpose

Avoid using only your head to invent a higher purpose intended to capture employees’ hearts. There is no need to invent a higher purpose as it already exists. You can discover it through empathy and by feeling and understanding the deepest needs of your workforce.

Recognize the Need for Authenticity

CEO’s recognize the danger and understand that organizations are political systems and hypocrisy is inevitable, where the assumption is that people act out of self interest and are seen as disingenuous if they claim other motivations. So remember, when an organization announces its purpose and values but the words don’t govern the behavior of senior leadership, they ring hollow.

Turn the Authentic Message To A Constant Message

When a leader communicates the purpose with authenticity and constancy, employees recognize the commitment, begin to believe in the purpose and reorient themselves to work towards it. Treat operational excellence as a destination and allow no other pressures to distract from it and let the purpose sink into the collective conscience.

Stimulate Individual Learning

As leaders embrace higher purpose, they recognize learning and development are powerful incentives. Employees want to think, learn and grow.By helping employees understand the relationship between the higher purpose and the learning process, leaders can strengthen it.

Turn Mid-Level Managers Into Purpose-Driven Leaders

Middle managers need to not only know the organization’s purpose, they need to be deeply connected with it and lead with MORAL POWER. Teach managers how to tell compelling stories about their own sense of purpose and meaning that conveys their own sense of personal identity and professional purpose. Through storytelling, leaders model a vulnerability and authenticity that no one had previously expected to see at the middle levels of management.

Connect The People To The Purpose

A Top-Down mandate does NOT work. Employees need to drive the process because then the purpose is more likely to permeate the culture, shaping behavior even when managers aren’t there to watch how people are handling things.

Unleash The Positive Energizers

Find the change agents in the organization. These are mature, purpose-driven people with an optimistic orientation. They naturally inspire others. They are open and willing to take initiative. Others trust them. These people often go unrecognized. Once discovered, you’ll notice they care deeply about the organization’s purpose and work to get colleagues and staff to embrace it.

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