Previously published on Forbes.com
“Meaningful work” is the new holy grail. The people who work for you want to understand that what they do connects to the company’s overarching purpose. And that means they’ll give you their precious time as long as you will make sure your organization is a source of personal growth, shared purpose and inspiration.
But how? It usually starts with the company’s mission. You might think, well of course we have a mission. All companies start with a mission. The problem, though, is that creating a compelling mission that’s clear to everyone and instantly resonates isn’t easy to do. Your organization’s mission must be accessible and inspiring for people at all levels in your organization. And it shouldn’t be too long or cumbersome. Here are some examples of inspiring mission statements:
- sweetgreen: To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.
- JetBlue: To inspire humanity—both in the air and on the ground.
- Prezi: To reinvent how people share knowledge, tell stories and inspire their audiences to act.
- Microsoft: To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
What’s your first reaction when you read these? For me, it’s that each of these companies managed to very clearly articulate what they stand for in a single, brief sentence. One sentence. Not ten.
Notice, too, how every statement begins with a powerful verb: inspire, reinvent, empower, ignite. Words matter. Be sure to use language that moves people and connects with them emotionally. Compelling mission statements do not use lingo, jargon, marketing-speak or corporate-speak. They use down to earth, relatable words that people can grab onto. They choose down-to-earth, relatable words that people can grab onto.
And remember that it’s okay to have some fun with what you are up to – if only in internal communications. I learned about Harley Davidson’s internal “mission” and looked it up: Harley Davidson sells to 43-year-old accountants the ability to dress in leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of them. This is compelling for the folks at Harley Davidson and entertaining for the rest of us.
Every employee wants to be part of a winning team that is doing good in the world. A recent study by Wrike.com found that, “In the U.S. specifically, meaningful work is especially important to happiness. Over half (58%) of full-time U.S. employees say they’ve taken a pay cut to accept a job that made them happier at work.” A cut in pay to work somewhere happier. Are you surprised?
The tricky part—the part that requires leadership—is figuring out how to ensure that every employee in your organization knows that they have a part in contributing to this higher ideal. There’s a famous anecdote about a time when President Kennedy went to Houston to check in on the space program at NASA and came across a custodian in the hallway. The president walked over to him and asked what he was doing. The custodian put down his broom and said, “Sir, I’m helping to send a man to the moon.” Someone had clearly helped him to make the connection between what he was doing and the overall NASA mission.
So, your charge and your challenge as a leader is how to help every employee connect to the bigger idea – right down to the janitor who knows his part also matters in the fulfillment of the mission. Start by making sure your mission is short, sweet and compelling. Then, reinforce it at every large meeting and in every communication. People should easily be able to memorize it. Ask people if they know the mission of the company and if they don’t, don’t shame them, train them. Over time, people will easily be able to recite the mission and what matters. Acknowledge their part in making the mission possible – over and over at every level of leadership and management.
Make it your mission to help your team connect to something meaningful and use that connection to inspire and ignite their day-to-day work. We all want the opportunity to contribute our talents to tackling meaningful work. It’s up to leaders to show us we’re in the right place to do that.