What’s the world’s cheapest and most effective performance-enhancing drug for your organisation? It’s not another seminar.
We go crazy explaining HOW to do things, especially when we’re in leadership and management positions. We keep teaching, “Here’s how to do your job more effectively.” We keep telling people how to have a crucial conversation.
But with all the energy we spend on the HOW, we can lose sight of the WHY.
Why did we choose this job? Why does it matter? Why is it significant?
People are yearning for that sense of why.
And when we tap into why motivation, we find the world’s most effective performance-enhancer: purpose.
How a 5-Minute Shift More Than Doubled Income
There’s an emerging body of research showing how we neglect using purpose as a motivator. We don’t take people seriously enough. We think, “I’m motivated by purpose, but these other people aren’t. They’re not like me. They don’t care as much as I do.”
But there’s a rich body of evidence in social science that shows appealing to sense of purpose is extraordinarily effective in many circumstances.
What if a sales consultant told you, “I’ve got a five-minute, cost-free intervention that can double production! Are you interested?” Of course you are!
Here’s how five minutes made a big difference at the University of Michigan. The university did a study at one of their call centres that raises money from alumni. In the call centre, student workers call alumni asking if they can give financially to the university and see how much money they can raise.
So, a researcher decided to run the call centre for a few weeks. First, he divided everyone into three groups. The groups were treated the same, used the same scripts, and called from the same general call lists. The only difference is what they did in the five minutes before they got on the phones.
Group One (the control group): They did whatever they wanted.
Group Two (the personal benefit group): They read real letters from former callers testifying to the personal benefit of having worked in the call centre.
“My name is Joe. I worked in the call centre for a year and half during my undergraduate. I learned communication, negotiation, and sales skills. Now, I use these skills in my role as an account executive at an advertising agency in Grand Rapids.”
Group Three (the purpose group): They read real letters from real people who received the money they raised.
“My name is Fred. I couldn’t afford to go to college, but I got a scholarship to Michigan thanks to some of the money raised here. Now, I run a school.”
“My name is Maria. I’m now an oncologist and research breast cancer. Some of our research is funded by the money raised here.”
Not surprisingly, the personal benefit group and the purpose group outperformed the control group.
But, the group that focused on purpose had a drastic increase. They earned more than twice the number of weekly pledges (from an average of 9 to an average of 23) and more than twice the amount of weekly donation money (from an average of $1,288 to an average of $3,130).
Think about that. Purpose significantly improves performance.
“purpose” vs. “Purpose”
Purpose matters. But there’s a difference in the kinds of purpose that motivate us. There’s “Purpose” and “purpose” — and we need both.
Purpose with a capital P is
I’m healing patients!
I’m making the world a better place!
I’m ending the climate crisis!
I’m providing scholarships to kids in need!
I’m doing something significant!
That’s all great… and it’s a big motivator. But we can’t forget purpose (with a lowercase p). Why does the job need to be done? How does daily work matter to the bigger goals?
Over a decade ago, I wrote the book Free Agent Nation. I interviewed people around the United States who had left large organisations to work on their own. They couldn’t take working for a big company anymore. As I read the transcripts of these interviews, I kept seeing the same sentence.
Can you fill in the blank?
I felt I wasn’t making a ___________.
Nope. Difference isn’t the answer. That’s Purpose (with a capital P).
They felt they weren’t making a contribution. People were working endlessly without seeing how it contributed or mattered to the greater good. They wondered, “If I didn’t show up to work, would it affect anyone?”
We need a balance of both “purpose” and “Purpose”. People need to know that what they do makes a difference in the world AND makes a contribution to the people around them.
The Purpose Motive
In business, we often talk about the profit motive. Profit motive is a good thing — but it’s not the only thing. And at a certain point, it’s just not enough.
Profit is good, but people want to do things that matter, that are significant, and things that make a contribution. That’s the purpose motive, and the more you can emphasise the “Purpose” and “purpose”, the more you’ll see people perform at their best.
So, here’s my challenge to you: when you go back to your office, have two fewer conversations about “HOW to do something” and two more about “WHY something matters” and I think you’ll see a big uptick in performance.