Motivation Through Mission
By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
On September 12, 1962 in one of the best
speeches ever made, President John F. Kennedy committed the nation
to a path of manned space exploration that would take us to the
moon. It launched a hope, a dream, a view of the future as bold and
bright as the moon he committed not just an agency, but an entire
nation to reach.
Fully engaged by the challenge, NASA’s
36,000 employees, together with 376,700 federal contractors,
including some of the world’s preeminent physicists, metallurgists,
medical specialists, and engineers did the best work of their lives
over the next seven years. All Americans held their collective
breath on July 24, 1969, as astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin,
Michael Collins, and the Apollo 11 spacecraft returned safely to
Earth. Mission accomplished.
Though we still venture into space, the
results since then have been far less compelling. Ask ten people
what NASA’s mission is, and it’s unlikely you’ll discover the
reason. You will be met by blank, deer-in the-headlights
expressions, and random guesses, even from elected representatives
who fund the agency.
here’s why: People don’t perform in an inspired manner without big
time commitment to a compelling cause.
Think about it…every major achievement in
the history of mankind has been accompanied by real commitment to a
common purpose. Otherwise, Christopher Columbus and crew would
likely have held out for better maps before they sailed off the edge
of the known universe. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters
probably wouldn’t have marched into Selma, and Astronaut Alan
Shepard might have suggested sending more monkeys up before
strapping his rear end to a relatively untested rocket. Well, the
same goes in the business world.
In a recent leadership seminar,
participants were asked to describe their organization’s mission or
core purpose. The result? Those same “deer-in-the-headlights” looks
and wild guesses. When the members of the assembled senior
management team were asked individually to write down the
organization’s three top priorities, the answers revealed incredible
disparity. To wit, it is no wonder that many organizations struggle
mightily to gain traction. Here are some thoughts that will help
management create employee motivation through a common mission:
Make it Clear: Legend has it that shortly after signing on as
head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi whistled
practice to a halt one day, assembled his players – who had grown
way too accustomed to losing – and got real instructive about
the organization’s core purpose. Picking up one of the practice
balls, he began with the statement, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
Investment guru, Peter Lynch, in his book, “Beating the Street”
advises investors not to put their money into anything they can’t
explain with a crayon. He reasons that if you can’t explain it with
such a simple instrument, then you don’t understand it. Lynch’s
advice is as good for the manager as it is the investor. If a
manager can’t explain with that very same crayon what the
organization is all about and where it’s going, then the employees
can’t explain it, and people won’t buy it.
Beware Mission Flatulence: You can’t go anywhere without hearing
or seeing some kind of corporate (or individual) noise, usually
expressed on a poster, plaque or t-shirt, about the entity’s mission
statement. Here’s an idea; put your marketing and PR folks to work
on other tasks. Slick images, hype and buzzwords are not helpful
here. Given the level of cynicism that exists today, if you expect
people to believe in it, let alone support the cause, it must be
simple, straightforward, and not wobbling or morphing into something
else as time passes.
Compelling: Modest objectives beget modest effort, period.
Consistency Matters: As former NFL head coach, Jimmy Johnson
once said, “Confused players are not very aggressive.” If the folks
on your team see the game or the goalpost changing on a
regular basis, or words and deeds not matching up, expect to see
some confused, disillusioned players who are going nowhere.
Having an Adversary Helps: Shortly after American Airlines
flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, Lee Evey assumed
responsibility for reconstruction of the building. Evey set an
extremely ambitious goal of having the damaged portion of the
building rebuilt and ready for occupancy within one year.
Reconstruction quickly began, with crews working in shifts around
the clock. Commitment to the task was off the chart as workers
plowed into their jobs with a level of determination seldom seen on
construction projects. Practically no one quit the job. When workers
got banged up, they kept on working. Indeed, Evey got some pushback
from workers when he wanted to shut the project down for a couple of
days at Christmas. Ultimately, the work was completed, well
inside the 12-month deadline, due in no small part to the
discretionary effort of thousands of individual workers, who each
made daily decisions to go the extra mile.
doubt, many factors contributed to the extraordinary level of
effort. For sure, one of them was the large “countdown clock”
standing watch over the job and reminding everyone of the days and
hours remaining until the work was to be completed. And, if any
further incentive was needed, the top of the clock bore the words,
“Let’s Roll” as a not-so-subtle reminder of just why they were
there, and who put the big hole in the side of the building.
short, the ‘ole effort meter often gets a boost from the presence of
an adversary. As FedEx founder and Chairman, Fred Smith once said,
“If UPS weren’t around, we would have had to invent them.”
your team competes on the global stage or a three unit cube farm,
they will move faster, get more done, have more fun, and make more
money if all hands on deck share a common sense of purpose and
direction. Make it your business to see that they get it … really
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