Need to Motivate Employees? If You Harness Your Purpose, They’ll Do It Themselves

Written by Paul Marchildon, on March 24, 2015.

Volunteers posing for picture

Want to help aspiring entrepreneurs in impoverished regions? Buy socks. Not just any accessories; Cole + Parker accessories. Proceeds from each sale fund microloans for people who cannot access traditional credit. Small amounts, sometimes as little as $25, make a huge difference for the startups and their communities – and for companies and their employees. Organizations like Cole + Parker demonstrate that pulling together for a common purpose – a purpose beyond ourselves – isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.

Why Do People Buy? Same Reason They’ll Work

You’re a thrifty, savvy, smart person. When you make a decision to purchase a product or service, what’re you looking for? The price or quality of that product or service? Sure, to a certain extent. To a larger extent, though, you are swayed by your perception of the company providing the product or service. Sixty percent of our “willingness to buy, recommend, work for, or invest in companies” is based on how we feel about the business.

When we feel good about a company, we want to be involved, to work there. We’re engaged and motivated to help them succeed. This is partly (and a big part!) why corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming much more of a priority in today’s organizations. Former Deloitte & Touche CEO Jim Copeland, Jr., says, “The best professionals in the world want to work in organizations in which they can thrive, and they want to work for companies that exhibit good corporate citizenship.”

Those motivated professionals are part of the reason values-based companies consistently outperform their competitors. This will only become more pronounced as Millennials and Gen Z enter the workforce en masse. They, perhaps more strongly than any other generation, believe work should integrate with their personal beliefs and values. It should be more than “work.”

Strong Values, Strong Company

When do people – whether in business, life, or society – pull together most? Well, it tends to be during crises. Ice storms, hurricanes, Tsunamis. They share a common purpose, a common belief, and they rise to the occasion.

Shortly after Katrina, Maritz made the decision to hold our global sales meeting in New Orleans. It was a conscious choice; a statement: “New Orleans is open for business. It’s ready for meetings and incentives again.” The meeting was a tremendous success – but it was really secondary to the overall experience. We had a two hour bus tour of the devastation, escorted by a police motorcade. It was like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. “Horrible” doesn’t begin to describe it. I literally cried on the bus.

But how does that turn into motivation?

The next day, all 300 of us worked together to rebuild a children’s park, painting fences, planting trees, putting down mulch. We had a purpose, and we pulled together. You never forget experiences like that.

If you’re wondering how to motivate employees, this is how. Give them purpose. Or rather, let them come together with a common purpose. It doesn’t end with planting shrubs or serving meals to the homeless or extending microloans or whatever cause your people are passionate about. It stays with them and impacts their interactions, their productivity, and their engagement.

Looking for Work/Life Integration?

Paul Marchildon, an experienced Leisureologist, can work with you and your team to increase productivity by incorporating leisure into the workplace.

Purpose at Work

People can pull together as effectively through their work. At Atlantis Creative Group, we were in the middle of one of the most important pieces of business we’d ever done, an integration meeting for a major corporation. Two months to pull off a massive, and critical, 500-person meeting. No sweat. Actually, a lot of sweat. And blood and tears. Then along comes another major client who decided that they wanted to do a huge car launch. Now.

I went to the team and said, “Guys, I hate turning down business, but we’re already stretched. If we take this on, we’re going to have to really, really bust our butts for the next few months.” Then I told them about the upside: profit-sharing, bonuses – the extrinsic rewards of doing the launch – as well as the intrinsic motivators: the prestige and quality creative associated with this high-end project.

The team decided to go for it. We came together around this common goal. And our shared need for caffeine IVs. It was a tough few months, but there was also a sense of exhilaration. This turned out to be two of the most rewarding projects most of us had ever worked on, and it wasn’t because of the bonuses or other financial considerations. It was because of the shared experience. (And because both projects came off brilliantly!)

In this case, our purpose was business-related. But that’s not really what brought people together. It was the need and desire to work together; to contribute so that, collectively, we were more than the sum of our parts. Being part of a “community” effort, whether world-wide or office-wide, provides endless opportunities to invite these types of transformative experiences into your company. You may sense an ulterior motive here – and you’re absolutely right. When you create an environment in which people can pull together to achieve a common goal, whether it’s completing a tough project or reaching out into a local or global community, you get back so much more in return: loyal customers, engaged employees, warm, stylish feet. Work becomes more than work – and that’s how everyone wins.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.