Creating Abundant Organizations: Purpose, Passion, and Profits (Part 1 of 2)

This morning, you got out of bed and got ready for work. You may have found a sense of meaning, purpose, even abundance in your work today--or found world-weary tedium, frustration, and despair. Which was it for you, and for the people you lead?  What difference did your sense of work make in how you approached your work? In recent weeks, you have also visited a number of companies as a customer … from shopping at a grocery store, retail chain, restaurant to dealing with your company’s suppliers.   How long, as a customer, before you sense the attitude of employees in these companies?  How does the employee attitude in these companies affect your attitude as a customer?

Your personal approach to work will affect how your customers will approach you at work.   When you bring a sense of meaning and purpose to work, you create an abundant organization where people work to build, grow, and explore possibilities more than use what they have.

An abundant organization exists when employees find meaning, when stakeholders get value, and when the organization offers hope for society.

When employees find meaning, they have a sense of why they are working.  Friedrich Nietzsche notes: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” People who have a why to work can bear with almost any how. Organizations are primary settings not only for accomplishing assignments but also for finding an abiding sense of meaning in life. Work is a universal setting in which to pursue our universal search for meaning. Great leaders have the capacity to help employees find meaning from the work that they do.   We were in a hotel recently and talked to the person responsible for setting up for meetings (tables, chairs, media).  He was curious about our group, who we were and what we did.  He sincerely asked what he could do to make sure our group had a good experience.   Another hotel had a meeting logistics person who told us how they would set up for our meeting.   The first person finds meaning in helping clients have a good experience.  The second person wants our group to meet his criteria.  As customers, we have frequently used the first hotel.   Abundant organizations exist when leaders help employees find meaning from the work that they do.

As noted above, abundant organizations connect employees with customers so that employees have a line of sight of how their work impacts customers.  The first hotelier above knew our names, worked to know our needs, and adapted to meet what we wanted.  He found abundance in his work by serving others.   The financial impact of abundant organizations is compelling:

  • Over a 10 year period (1998 to 2008) “best companies to work for” have a 6.8 % stock appreciation vs. 1.0% for the average firm.
  • Over a 7 year period, the most admired firms in Fortune’s list of admired companies had double the market returns of competitors.
  • The probability of an Initial Public Offering (new company) succeeding goes from 60 to 79% when the new company invests in its people.
  • 61 hospitals in the UK had a 7% decline in death rate when they invested in the well-being of their staff.
  • A one-standard-deviation increase in high performance work practices yields $27,044 increase in sales per employee and $3,814 increase in profit per employee.

So, abundant organizations make meaning meaningful for employees inside and customers and investors outside.

But abundant organizations also matter to society at large.  Increasingly, organizations shape performance and reputations of countries and communities.  Business competitiveness often precedes social welfare.  Abundant organizations go beyond making money to shape positive communities.   Whole Foods Market, a grocery store chain with nearly 300 stores, has committed to community service:

We are committed to helping take care of the world around us, and our active support of organic farming and sustainable agriculture helps protect our planet. And while we assist our global neighbors through our Whole Planet Foundation’s micro-lending operations, we also step out the back door of each of our stores to support food banks, sponsor neighborhood events and donate to local non-profit groups.  (source http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/)

When company’s use their organization investments to address broader society problems, they create abundance, or more, in terms of meaning and purpose.

So, how do leaders become meaning makers who shape abundant organizations? That will have to wait until Thursday's post.

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If you enjoyed this article by Dave and Wendy Ulrich about the meaning of work, you'll enjoy them at our live learning venue even more! They will be discussing topics around this subject and much more. Join hundreds of leaders learning together how to operate their company well, all on a biblical platform at the Leadership Summit 2017 in Hilton Head, SC. Find out more here.

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