Engaging Employees with Purpose

Love What You Do

In a 2017 commencement speech, Facebook CEO/Founder Mark Zuckerberg urged Harvard grads to pursue purpose over success:

“Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for.  Purpose is what creates true happiness.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Every company has a purpose to fulfill. Yet, if you were to survey employees with “what is the purpose of your work?” How many do you think will say something even remotely resembling their corporate mission statement? Employees are engaged when they have a clear sense of the company’s purpose/mission. Here are two key reasons why purpose matters:

Everything Starts with Why (Purpose)

Simon Sinek emphasizes the importance of purpose with his Golden Circle model. Three concentric circles beginning with WHAT on the outside, then HOW and finally WHY in the center.  Sinek asserts that the best way to motivate people toward your desired action is to speak to their emotion, not logic.

Purpose speaks to the emotional core in the limbic system of our brains. Despite what we may think, our decisions have been scientifically proven to be influenced by our emotions. Our logic merely comes behind to justify the decisions our emotions have already made. The company purpose is intended to be a unifier.  People desire to work in service of a cause that’s greater than themselves.

Read also: Engaging Employees with Autonomy

Purpose is a key motivator

Maintain the Vital Connection

From the beginning of time, work has always been in service of others. In the purely agricultural societies, crops were exchanged for livestock/poultry. Artisan societies saw the Blacksmith make the horseshoes for the Rancher.

In today’s Corporate America, outside of Customer Service and Sales, work has become detached from those it’s truly meant to serve. Work seems to be just about getting the widget to the adjacent department to meet the turn around time (TAT). Or it’s about getting the sponsor to approve the project deliverable.  

When employees truly understand who that widget is for focus and quality improves. So does engagement. The deliverables are no longer for the sponsor, they’re for the client or the member.

Read also: Engaging Employees with Mastery

Purpose (the why) is a siren song to customers. When it’s clear, the right customers will find you and tell others.  It’s a steady drumbeat for the heart of employees. It’s the common theme that connects all departments.

Engaging Employees with Mastery

Mastery is making progress in meaning work.

For the past several months I have been teaching my teenager how to drive.  
My role is clear.  It’s more than just keeping her company in the passenger seat. It’s providing clear objectives and timely feedback.  

My daughter is expecting me to let her know when she’s too close to the line. When her speed sags below the limit, she’d appreciate a reminder. As she parks in the shopping center, she’s looking for advice on how to improve.  

How would she ever hope to get better if I just went along for the ride?  She’d probably feel overwhelmed, frustrated, isolated and resentful. It would seem absurd for me to coach with my mouth clothes, wouldn’t it? Yet, this is par for the course in many organizations.  Where many employees get detailed feedback only 1-2 times a year.

Daniel Pink calls mastery the most important motivator. He describes it is as the urge to get better at a skill.  It’s also referred to as making progress in meaningful work. For employees to know they’re making progress, they need clear goals and timely & accurate feedback.  

Also Read: Engaging Employees with Autonomy

In order to help employees feel a sense of mastery, managers must do more.  More than just managing that is. They must also be coaches.

The coaching style is distinct in its focus on developing people for the future as managers help employees improve their performance and cultivate their long-term strengths.

Daniel Goleman

A good manager provides clear goals and objectives. They identify skills needed to succeed at attaining the goals. They provide feedback and encouragement all along the way.  

Engaging Employees with Autonomy

Autonomy is a key motivator in Employee Engagement

In the book “Drive“, Daniel Pink describes three key factors to motivating employees. Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. In this post, let’s focus on Autonomy.

Autonomy is having the freedom/flexibility to do something on your own. Freedom can come in many forms.  Creative freedom in how the employee solves the problem. Location freedom in where the employee can be while solving the problem.  Time freedom in when the employee can solve the problem.

Creative Freedom

One of the worst things a manager can do is dictate what the solution should be.  This removes the creative process from the work. Instead, managers should provide clear expectations on the problem to be solved.  Allow the employee to engage their mind in the mental jiujitsu required to solve a challenging problem.

Time Freedom

The jury has been in for quite some time.  There are indeed night owls and early birds. Why still do so many companies expect their employees in by 9 am?  

Flexible schedules don’t only provide employees with job satisfaction, better health, increased work-life balance, and less stress, they also benefit employers. Through higher productivity levels, less turnover, and reduced absenteeism, employers are able to retain qualified employees and save money as well.”
Jessica Howington

Location Freedom

While the work from home debate still rages on, I’ll suggest there’s more to it.  Some people like being at work just not at their desk. Employees should be allowed the flexibility to work in locations that work best for them.  For some, that’s a nearby coffee shop, an outside courtyard. For others, it’s a naturally lit conference room or even an empty cube farm in another building on campus.  Changing sceneries can provide needed insights to unlock stubborn challenges.

Freedom can certainly seen as a spectrum based on the situation and the employee. The flow should always ebb toward the employee getting enough autonomy needed for them to feel productive.  

The benefit of autonomy is that autonomy instills trust and loyalty in their staff.  Employees develop confidence in their skills and abilities to know that they can do the job. Managers are then able to focus on proactive process improvements. In addition to coaching and their own personal and career development.

Inclusion in the Soil of Culture

Inclusion is having a voice at the table.

Culture is the soil in the forests we call organizations.  The trees being planted are its associates. The first critical nutrient to that soil is inclusion.

Google the word inclusion. You’re sure to find lots of corporate links entitled “Diversity and Inclusion”. If you keep reading you’ll also find “Inclusion and Diversity”. The order may seem inconsequential, but order denotes relative importance. One makes you feel good.  The other just makes you look good.

The Difference in D&I

Though they’re often linked, they are quite different. One is easy to spot, while the other is difficult and can get messy. Diversity is about the proportion of demographics around a table. Inclusion is about whether or not that diversity has a voice at the table.

“Diversity does not automatically lead to inclusion. Diversity gets more attention because there’s a formula – numbers to meet. Inclusion is not as easy to define, let alone measure and track.”

– Glenn Llopis

Inclusion is a mindset

An inclusive minded company refuses to view associates as mindless automatons that must be directed. Instead, it switches to welcoming everyone’s individuality at all levels of the company. Your talents, your ideas, your background matter here.

Inclusion means getting smart people and letting them solve tough problems.

“An inclusive organization is one that builds systems that actively enable people to (1) be and express whatever identity they authentically claim, and (2) at the same time, look for ways to elevate the individuality of others.”

– Glenn Llopis

The key to Engagement

The phrase, bring your whole self to work used to puzzle me.  Just as much as Employee Engagement (EE) did. EE often seems more like Employee Entertainment than anything else.  For it to make sense for the company, EE must tie back to the achievement of strategic priorities. Inclusion helps employees be more accountable and engaged. As they’ve been entrusted with bringing their unique perspectives and skills to solve tough problems the result is engagement.

The companies that switch the order of the words to “I&D” have made the shift. They have progressed to viewing diversity as an expectation and not an achievement to be gained. They now focus on achieving ever increasing levels of inclusion.

What I Wish I’d Learned In High School

What learning did you miss out in HS?


Firstly, schools are only focused on what to learn. Rarely do schools spend any time on howto learn. When students are left to their own devices, they cram. Science tells us that learning retention is maximized by distributed learning. Learning the Picture Palace memorization method would’ve been great as well.


Next, I would’ve loved to learn how to build and keep wealth? How the 8th wonder of the world (compound interest) works. How it enables money to be put to work for you. Financial Management: paying yourself first, living on 60–70% of your income, avoiding debt, etc. Basically everything from The Richest Man in Babylon. How to complete a tax return, how credit cards actually work, how a mortgage works?


Robert Kiyosaki’s best-selling book Cashflow Quadrant is a game changer. The school system taught me how to be an employee in a corporation. I would’ve loved to have learned about the other four quadrants: Self-employment, Business, and Investor. I would’ve answered “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with – “An Investor!”


Next, schools usher students out of the cruel world unarmed to wage war against their biggest enemy – themselves and their limiting beliefs. Schools should prepare students to harness the power of your mind. Teach them to develop and maintain good habits. Help them understand how to be more mindful and more in control of your emotions.


Lastly, most student anxiety is due to the fear of messing up their future. Why not arm them with the tool of how to make decisions? This would start by determining your core values and letting that help guide your decisions.

School should offer extra credit to students who complete book projects on the following books:

There are lot of things High Schools can do to help prepare students for the real world. Ultimately, if the student doesn’t get these skills, it falls on the parents to impart the needed knowledge. What would you add to the list? Share in the comments!

A Meaningful Approach to Life

A Meaningful Approach to Life

What is your approach to life summarized in 6 words or less? (asked on Quora)

***Consistently apply values to impact others.***

My answer to this question from Quora is based on Simon Sinek’s recipe for finding your WHY.  I believe living out your WHY every day is the best way to find meaning in it.

Consistency is the most essential virtue. With it, you will develop the discipline needed to overcome your ego. Your subconscious will become your ally rather than your saboteur. Consistency will provide you with what Jeff Olson calls the Slight Edge. The ability to turn simple habits into massive success.

One of the most important things you can do is develop a set of core values. Your core values will help you make better decisions. It will also serve as a compass to happiness. If working by your company’s core values leads to an increase in employee engagement. What would happen if your core values complemented those of your company? Employee engagement would go skyrocket as you now experience Inclusion.

When it comes to meaning in life, fulfillment complements happiness. The best way to find fulfillment is in making an impact in the lives of others. Be in part of something greater than ourselves. Anyone can benefit. Be it your family, a neighbor, your employer. Be it also a non-profit or even the stranger on the street.  It’s why the Bible says, “It is better to give than to receive.” (Act 20:35 NIV)

A meaningful approach to life involves impacting others.

It all boils down to consistency, values, and impact. By consistently applying our skills, talents, and strengths to make a positive impact in the lives of others, you will be well on your way to a meaningful life.

The Importance of Corporate Culture

Corporate culture is the primary component when developing a company. Culture is “the way we do things around here.” The forgotten facet of culture are its tacit assumptions. These determine its behaviors, values, and priorities. Leaders develop the company culture whether they plan to or not.

Culture is fundamental in company development.
A great culture is a key differentiating factor in sustaining growth and maintaining shareholder value.

Corporate Culture Demonstrates Values

You’ve seen the framed images of rowing teams, soaring eagles or rock climbers. Companies hang them to convey their core values. Wall art doesn’t convey values. Companies can only show their values in the decisions that they make. In how they treat employees, suppliers, and customers.

Culture Signals Priorities

The founder/CEO wouldn’t remain founder/CEO for long if she were still making each and every decision. Culture influences the decision making of senior and middle management all the way down to the front line. This is because what’s worked for us in the past heavily influences culture.

Culture Enables Consistency

Cultures are like a flywheel or drum beat. They help everyone understand how things should be done in this organization. It provides the momentum that keeps the wheels of the company moving. This way, the founder doesn’t have to keep pushing.

Culture Influences Strategy

Management Consulting Guru, Peter Drucker is said to have coined the phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If a company isn’t self-aware its outdated unconscious belief system can derail even the best of strategic plans. [Think Blockbuster’s failure to acquire Netflix. Think AOL not acquiring Google]. This is due to the fact that key middle managers are viewing these new strategic plans through the lenses of faulty decision logic or business rules.

Culture has a big impact on the health and performance of the company. Many CEOs see culture as their number one priority. A great corporate culture is a key factor in sustaining growth and maintaining shareholder value. The only question is whether or not the culture will be developed intentionally or not.

This post was in answer to the question in Quora: How important is company culture when developing a company?

The Soil of Culture

Ask any farmer (that’s not already been replaced by A.I.) and they’ll tell you this one thing. The health of the soil is imperative to maximizing the yield of the crops.  The soil of any company is its culture. Just like soil, corporate culture is the key to the growth of the seed of innovation, employee engagement, inclusion, and revenue.

What is Culture?

The people are not the culture any more than a goldfish is the water.  Marketing Guru, Seth Godin describes culture as the answer to this fundamental question: “People like us, do things like this.”  The “this” is multi-faceted.  According to Edgar Schein, culture is made up of three facets: Artifacts, Espoused Values and Tacit Assumptions.

These are tangible trappings that can be seen, felt, tasted or heard.  Things like the annual charity softball event, bagel Fridays, remote working and collaborative workspaces.

Espoused Values
These are what we want to be known for both internally and externally.  Common values include dependability, accountability, teamwork, integrity, fun, courage, and customer-focused.

Tacit Assumptions
These are often the most overlooked facet of culture due it being difficult to measure.  Here we find the shared norms and beliefs that influence: how employees make decision making, conflict resolution, treatment of customers/associates/suppliers, promotions and corporate strategy.

What isn’t Culture?

Many leaders go right to the programs that have they’ve established to drive employee engagement. Such programs include volunteer time off, free food days and annual traditions.  However, culture isn’t just employee engagement. Leaders also tout work-life balance policies. Such policies include work from home, flexible schedules or even comp time. However, culture isn’t just work-life balance.

Don’t get me wrong, these things are all awesome.  In and of themselves, they are the outgrowth of an ethos or way of thinking.  Taken in context with the ethos, you have culture.

This common misconception makes sense since these are clearly visible.  It’s also because it is can be easily assessed via a survey. Looking at culture this way is like a farmer snipping off the green leaves of his carrot crop and leaving the carrot buried in the ground.  

(Read also My Fascination with Organizational Culture) https://wayneburrell.com/2019/04/my-fascination-with-organizational-culture/

Why avoid norms?

Leaders and Human Resources professionals have stopped short of pulling their carrots of culture for many reasons.  It’s not as easy as using keystrokes to publish a survey. The soil is home to all the human dynamics that make culture messy and they’d rather not get their hands dirty.  Just as someone might avoid the doctor to avoid hearing uncomfortable truths, many leaders wish to stay clear of delving into the amorphous blob that is culture.

Remaining at the level of artifacts and espoused values allows for what’s left of culture to be assessed efficiency via a survey.  Since culture is experienced in groups it must be assessed in groups. This is because the way we do things around here is often unconscious.  We’re not aware that our behavior is following patterns and norms.  

In conclusion, most leaders often miss the mark on corporate culture really is.  Failing to focus on all three of the cultural facets. Just like soil cultures will have their fair share of bad patches that yield bad crops. And just like soil, leaders must cultivate and enrich cultures in order to produce bountiful crops that delight both employees and customers.

My Fascination with Organizational Culture

Stephen Covey says “Begin with the end in mind.” I don’t know where my journey will end. That doesn’t stop me from imagining where the journey will take me.  One of the stops will be in a studio with Jordan Harbinger as I hawk my book Disruptive Cultures: Harnessing the Power of Culture to Drive Strategy, Fuel Innovation and Sustain Growth”. The first question will undoubtedly be something along the lines of “What made you so fascinated with organizational culture in the first place?” Well, Jordan…

I have been devoting myself to self-studying entrepreneurship for several years. Delivering customer value through innovation was how startups made it and how existing companies would sustain their growth.  When I came upon the Strategy Map tool it all clicked.

The Strategy Map is made up of four perspectives (top to bottom): Financials, Customer, Processes, Learning & Growth.  At first, I thought they were arranged from an order of importance from top to bottom. Upon further inspection, the order might’ve been by priority, but it wasn’t by importance.

The Learning & Growth perspective is made up of things such as People, Decision Making, Management, Teamwork, Values. In a word culture.  It was clear to see then that Company Culture was then foundational to the type of Internal Processes used to service the Customer which drove Financials.

Culture is the companies collective mindset.  It drives everything that a company does.  That is why my fascination has shifted from Innovation to Culture.  When properly understood and analyzed, culture can solve entrenched business problems and bring about lasting change.   If leaders want to Begin with the end in mind, they must begin by focusing on culture.

About Last Week: Apr 8th, 2019

Here are some of the things that have peaked my interested and stimulated my intellect over the course of the last week.

Heavy: An American Memoir
In addition to consuming a ton of business and personal-development, every once in a while I add sides of biographies and novels. I decided to give it a listen because it was highly rated on Goodreads. I decided to stick with it after the first chapter because of the authors amazing use of the English language. The critique on the cover sums it up perfectly.
“A question anchored in real curiosity is much more important that a cliche or force metaphor”
“Don’t be distracted, be directed”
Liz Fosslien on Emotion at Work | Curious Minds
No matter how much some members of management might want to wish that it weren’t there, emotions are an ever present part of our daily lives. It’s what makes us distinctly human. So of course they’ll be with us at work. But do they all belong there? Liz provides an interesting way of deciphering which emotions belong at work and which don’t. She also shares a tool for making sure the wrong emotions don’t make it into our decision making.
Inclusion As A Growth Strategy Part 1: The Last Remaining True Growth Opportunity
Diversity and Inclusion have always been a mystery to me, but this article clears it up. It explained by a strict focus on diversity is counter productive. While it’s measurable, it doesn’t achieve the desired impact because those diverse voices and included in key decisions. Inclusion is harder because it’s more difficult to measure.
Favorite Quote of the Week
Change is a fact of life. The only thing that doesn’t change is that that change will come. This quote is a reminder that worry is useless. What is needed is action. Focus on whatever it is that is within your realm of control to prepare for the change. Even if it means preparing your mind for change through Mindfulness and Mediation training.