People are much more likely to participate in a knowledge practice if they believe in the purpose of the organization. Knowledge, our life's experiences, represents a large part of who we are as individuals; it is personal. Businesses that have a compelling purpose, one that people can connect with on an emotional level, have a stronger foundation for employee contribution of knowledge than those that do not.
We have found two things to be effective as motivators. The first is alignment to a purpose and the second is a sense of accomplishment and recognition. Our observations in these areas are supported by independent research.
Alignment to a purpose is a result of understanding and caring. The purpose has to be something we care about, something we have a connection to. Motivation comes from a corresponding belief that one's actions will make a difference in achieving that purpose.
The purpose is what we are about. The values are the definition of legitimate ways or behaviors to accomplish the purpose.
How do we get there? To begin with, leaders have to have a strong sense of ownership and personal commitment to the vision expressed in the compelling purpose and the strategic framework. The leader's enthusiasm for the vision and values can become contagious. Two key factors will make the difference: sincerity and consistency. People have an instinctive sense about leadership's beliefs. That sense is reinforced or weakened according to the consistency of the leaders' behavior with the stated vision and values. Behavior that is consistent with the vision and values will resonate and create trust and buy-in. Behavior that is inconsistent with the vision and values creates dissonance.
People are inspired when they believe in what they are doing and feel good about their individual contribution and the contribution of the team. A powerful purpose has an emotional appeal. For example, if we ask the Support Analysts at VeriSign what VeriSign's purpose is, they will quickly respond, "trust on the internet." They feel a part of something that they value, it has meaning to them, and they are proud to be a part of it.
It is amazing how many employees do not know their company's purpose. It is also surprising how many companies have a purpose that is in no way compelling. What makes the difference?
A compelling purpose:
Is known by all
Is bigger than the company itself, not self-referencing
Is brief, clear, concise
Elicits an emotional response
Is a value proposition
Some examples of compelling purposes:
Trust on the internet—VeriSign
Saving lives, one person at a time—sanofi-aventis
We create happiness—Disney
Two examples of non-compelling purposes:
"To create the best video monitor in the industry"—this statement is self-referencing (not bigger than self), limiting, and does not have a strong emotional appeal
"To create wealth for the shareholders"
What about money? Producing a profit for the company owners or stockholders is a responsibility of the business in a for-profit model. Delivering on a strong value proposition inevitably produces profit. Profitability is a by-product of being good at delivering on a compelling purpose.
The importance of alignment to a purpose may seem remote to a Support Analyst responding to customer requests for assistance. However, as we make the transition to KCS, we will be asking people to change how they do their work and to exercise an increasing degree of independent judgment in what they do. The degree to which individuals can understand the bigger picture not only encourages participation and gives them a sense of belonging and contribution, it also gives them a basis on which to make good decisions.