Using the Mission to Motivate

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Does the mission and purpose of your company extend beyond your business and into the greater community? Servant leadership pioneer Robert Greenleaf said the measure of servant leadership was whether people were changed for the better after coming in contact with you. That should lead us to examining our organization’s mission and purpose. Most companies have a mission and purpose to guide their activities. For some, it’s comprised of a poetic sentence or two. For others, it’s a massive paragraph that’s nearly impossible to remember, let alone implement. At its worst, it’s a plaque on the wall and soon forgotten.

But what if you could actually use that mission statement to drive daily activity, and motivate your employees? What if that mission and purpose became your North Star, the statement through which you could anchor your decision-making process? 

Here’s an example of a mission statement that’s alive and helps in decision-making:

An organization I worked for had a mission statement that included it would be a profitable company. At an employee meeting, the CEO shared the financial results for that year, which showed the company was not profitable. The CEO asked the employees if they felt bonuses should be paid out. The collective response was “no, we shouldn’t get a bonus because we weren’t profitable. We didn’t fulfill our mission.” The employees could have responded with all kinds of reasons why they should have gotten their bonuses, but they didn’t. They lived their mission.

Truly meaningful mission statements include an element that ties the company activity to the community at large. Starbucks, for example, has a mission statement that says, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” Now that’s something baristas can think about as they’re steaming that milk!

Some employees do work that’s not exciting or stimulating. It may be repetitive and at times even boring. But if you have a meaningful mission, then no matter what they’re doing, employees can say their activity has impact and meaning. They actually change lives by processing paperwork, building a product or packing a crate. That connection can be a powerful motivator. The more successful the company is, the greater impact it can have in your community.

The point is, if you’re going to have a mission and purpose for your company, make sure it’s one you can embrace and get excited about — and it involves your employees. It doesn’t have to be complex; it doesn’t have to change the whole world, but it should be something that will motivate your employees to reach new goals, and it should definitely be something that will live on with anyone who leads your company. Motivation should be about the mission, not about any one individual. As servant leaders, let’s work to communicate our mission and purpose to everyone we influence.

  • Use the mission to motivate.  

  • Repeat it in your conversations.  

  • Talk openly about what it means and how we achieve it.  

  • Don’t be afraid to dream out loud.  

  • Mission and purpose should inspire pride in what we do.