From time to time you see the occasional and mostly not very solid comparisons between ‘the company’ and a religion. It is usually done in the context of explaining the need for extraordinary commitment, a sort of Mother of All Employee Engagement models. These comparisons are not taken very seriously and it’s easy to understand why.
Another model of engagement has compared the commitment of employees to the military ‘tour of duty’. A kind of time-limited mutual contract in which for the commitment to the ‘tour’, the employee gets compensation, protection and skilling.
I think that new generations of employees are pointing us to a different direction. Even if it is a gross generalization to talk about ‘new generations’, Millennial for example, it is true that there is a shift towards ‘purpose’ and being part of it. Equally tempting and risky is the generalization towards ‘purpose’, particularly social purpose and societal impact. However, all these shifts, overestimated or not, should makes us think of the reasons why employees may join an enterprise in future. The modern enterprise, and the one described in textbooks, or even the one in existence until recently, is not anymore a solid model for the future. There is little ‘built to last’ around, but little excitement as well for ‘maximising shareholder value’ as the Mother of All Motivations.
I believe ‘the cause’ may give us better clues. Joining a cause, small or being, is joining a common sense of purpose and a shared commitment to action. Asking ourselves about ‘the cause’ that may be behind what we do in organizations, goes well beyond the rather cold description of missions and visions. The problem is that many leaders may have difficulties in articulating their cause, their company cause. They don’t think in these terms. Take this as an example.
Is the cause of pharmaceutical company X to (a) develop a medicine for Y; (b) cure Y; (c) eradicate Y; (d) transform the way Medicine is practiced when dealing with Y; (e) bring total health to Y sufferers; (f) prevent Y; (g) have and give immense joy and fun for employees working there; (g) enhance the shareholder value of people putting money in?
At this point, our minds get uncomfortable with the multiple choice and start looking for the comfort behind ‘surely some of them; they are not incompatible’. But I think this is a trick. Other than possible incompatibilities (e.g. the company is simply not set up to fully prevent Y), this is not a true ‘pick your own’. One or some are the cause, the rest is music. Pick one. Which one? Which two? What is the real, real, real cause? Well, you’d better have a clear idea and a clear answer for people joining you.
I deeply believe that these are not simply semantic games and that we need more clarity on ‘causes’, or the lack of them. I would welcome the fact that this makes some people uncomfortable and dismissive, if this is a trigger to take it seriously. If not, not serious, complete dismissal or sheer inability to articulate the real cause, I am very sorry for you, have a pain-controlled decline.
PS. Spare me the ‘to make money’. Drug dealers make money; human traffic makes money; corrupted governments make money.