Recently I read an article about someone who’d “dropped out” of a stellar corporate career.
It was an interesting story.
What fascinated me was this quote which described the subject’s
“…unhappiness in the corporate world where I spent most of my days in meetings with people I didn’t want to spend time with and the rest of it staring at a computer”.
Wow…pretty blunt stuff.
The quote actually didn’t surprise me too much - after all, I come across people who feel the same way day in, day out.
But I was struck by the clarity with which this individual had summarised his feelings about his life at work. In a way, he’d identified himself as a “corporate lost cause”. And nothing was going to bring him back.
The article went on to describe his career trajectory (impressive to say the least) and increasing disillusionment with where he was at professionally.
It got to the point where seemingly no inducement (his bosses even offered to buy him a Porsche) would make him stay.
So what's going on?
Surely working in an environment where hard work is well-rewarded financially and recognised through rapid-fire promotion would be engaging enough?
Apparently not. Not for this person, nor many like him.
What became evident in the story was his view that the business he worked in was almost totally devoid of any semblance of purpose over and above growing its bottom line.
This was a classic case of "the business" and one of its best talents not seeing anywhere near eye-to-eye from a values perspective.
And where have we got to?
The case highlights the cross-road we seem to have reached in the corporate world today.
We're talking about the point where the larger proportion of senior leaders and business owners is still comprised of those whose either natural or learned style tends toward numbers first and everything else after that. Which contrasts (and often conflicts) with the ever increasing number of people in the workforce who see things very differently.
This latter group, growing both in number and influence, is made up of folks who want more from the world of work and see financial results as outcomes of everything else that goes on in a business. Important outcomes of course, but outcomes nonetheless.
There's resistance to the revolution...
If you’ve been reading our recent series on building a purpose-driven business you’ll know exactly where we’re heading with this.
And if you’ve read any or all of the series and are still wondering if there’s any real value in going down the purpose-driven route, either we’ve not stated the case strongly enough or you may not be giving the question your full attention.
We actually understand when there’s resistance. Pressure to “make the numbers” is intense in this competitive world.
We have a whole other hypothesis about the "whys and wherefores" of that pressure but that’s a story for another day...
All’s not lost though.
I know from experience that even the most hard-nosed numbers guy (and yep, they’re almost always guys) can be swayed to become quite fervent believers in the power of purpose.
I worked with just such an individual once upon a time in a large-ish corporate. It took some time to bring him around, but here’s what happened.
One small step for man...
I’d been researching purpose-driven business for a while and could see no reason why we - or at the very least, our part of the bigger business - shouldn’t (nor couldn’t) head down that path.
We were doing ok but there were signs we could do better. It also seemed clear to me that while largely engaged, there were plenty of people in the business who were simply going through the motions. And that was largely because they hadn’t been encouraged to think and act beyond simply getting the day-to-day work done.
I thought, too, about our strategic planning efforts which took pretty much the usual corporate approach.
The leadership team would set aside a couple of days every six months or so to review and refine the strategic plan that had been bubbling away for seemingly years - there didn’t seem to be much of an appetite to change the process nor challenge the outcomes.
It was very much “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset.
In the minds of those around the table, the numbers were fine, so the strategy was working and there was therefore no reason to challenge anything much at all.
When I first challenged all this, the response was along the lines that I didn’t quite understand how things worked but not to worry because it’ll be fine once you’ve been around for a bit.
Figuring that butting heads wasn’t going to get me far, I took the only logical path…I turned subversive!!
Followed by more baby steps...
First up, I chatted informally with members of the leadership team with a view to working out which of them “got” the purpose conversation. I also made sure to have as many casual conversation with members of the broader team to assess the general mood.
One thing I paid particular attention to was the results of recent engagement surveys, which offered up quite a bit of useful information about changes in how people in the business were feeling.
Armed with all of that, I kicked off the next phase of my battle plan at our next strategic planning meeting asking for 15 minutes early on day one to present my case.
I knew by the time the meeting rolled around I’d have support from enough of my colleagues around the table and wasn’t afraid to put them on the spot on the day.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to, because they voluntarily offered up their views and after long and “robust” debate the team agreed change was needed if we were to remain relevant as a business.
That change we agreed was needed didn’t come immediately but certainly by the time we next met formally to continue our strategy work we'd made a strong start.
And to cut a long story short, that business became very focused on purpose, rather than numbers, as the guiding principle for everything it does. It’s not perfect but then nobody is, right?
So the moral in all this?
As we’ve pointed out numerous times in the past, becoming a purpose-driven business doesn’t just happen. And since most businesses are full of people with different views, beliefs and values, change is a challenge.
But not an impossibility.
What I’ve learned over the years is that change will be driven by those who not only fundamentally believe that it's required but who also have the courage to pursue it.
If you find yourself in the same position our friend in the article I read found himself, you can surely do what he did…go someplace else where you won’t be in meetings with people you don’t want to spend time with or staring at a computer.
But let’s be honest, meetings and computers are a fact of business life. It all depends why you’re “meeting and computing”.
So, as an alternative, you can take up the cause. Become a subversive if you have to. Be the advocate for change and pursue it relentlessly.
In the end, the “numbers guys” will thank you for it!
Now’s as good a time as any to make a start…
Once your “underground” activity bears fruit, you might find people around the strategy table looking at one another wondering:
"Well, what now?"
The transformation we’re talking about here requires a project approach, with agreed objectives, milestones and activity planning. It’s a lot of work and the best results won’t be realistically achievable if the accountability and responsibility for delivery is simply added to someone’s day job.
That’s where we come in.
BusinessBlades is all about helping businesses take the path toward being truly purpose-driven. We love the work and deliver improvements in strategic and business planning, customer and team engagement and ultimately, profitability.
All through an “on-purpose” approach.
Is there any reason you business wouldn’t benefit from a chat?
Give us a call or drop us a line and we can fill you in on the missing details.
Join the conversation
We’d love to hear your views on what you’ve read here and in previous posts. Please do leave a comment below.
Why not subscribe?
If you’ve enjoyed reading our posts, please feel free to subscribe here.
Alternatively, send us your details and we’ll add you to our subscriber list. You can check out some previous posts here.