Positioning with Purpose ~ Meaning, Engagement and Social Branding

The McKinsey Quarterly® just published a compelling article entitled, “Increasing the Meaning Quotient at Work”.  The article explores the power of meaningfulness in the workplace and shares several approaches to cultivate a sense of purposefulness throughout the organization.  We must admit, we have a bias in endorsing the research, as the concepts and application of psychological flow, emotional intelligence, the endowment effect, and inclusion through authentic engagement have been central tenets of our curriculum for the past four years.  For us, it’s a point of independent validation of our thought leadership (of being a step ahead of such prestigious, global firms like McKinsey) and approach to professional and organizational development.

Bell Curve FlowRenowned research psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has demonstrated that when people are in psychological flow, they’re performing at their optimal abilities.  Be it an athletic, artistic or intellectual pursuit.  In fact, I wrote extensively about flow in my book and identified methods for creating and sustaining the culture necessary to propagate flow in knowledge workers.  In fact, working from flow increases productivity five-fold.  By intentionally building an emotionally intelligent workforce and emotionally intelligent culture will emerge.  Incorporating the work of Daniel Goleman, one of the fathers of emotional intelligence research, and the research of affective neuroscientists Jaak Panksepp and Richard Davidson, we’ve created easy-to-use, yet powerful tools to assist our clients successfully navigate their emotional landscape (i.e., The Emotional Compass™).

Another interesting finding from the article is another lesson we’ve long understood and emphasized.  It is from the discipline of Applied Behavioral Economics, and in particular, the research of Dan Ariely.  When we own something, be it an idea or an item, we naturally overestimate its value.  The McKinsey study reveals this with the experiment of writing your own lottery ticket.  Dan Ariely demonstrated it at Duke, with basketball tickets.  We’ve seen it for years in our strategic planning practice and it is why we migrated from writing strategic plans for clients to coaching them through the process.  When we feel (notice it is feel, not think or believe) ownership, we adhere and champion our work.  We have a psychological and emotional skin in the game, which also drives engagement.

The other tool McKinsey talks about is storytelling.  Storytelling was humankind’s first knowledge management system.  It was how, for millennia, human beings passed on survival skills, and the cultural mythologies that defined their identity as a people.  This is another long-standing tool we’ve incorporated into our experiential learning workshops as well as our new, social knowledge management platform.  Stories are powerful psychological tools that resonate with us.  It’s part of why we so readily remember song lyrics; stories set to music.

One of the artifacts of the Industrial Age of management is the exclusive use of extrinsic goals and values to drive engagement.  Money, prestige and the big corner office may have worked well to motivate a homogenous workforce, but falls short in today’s multi-cultural, multi-generational workplace.  Extrinsic goals and values are conditioned values, things our society tells us we should value.  By introducing intrinsic goals and values, leaders can transcend both cultural and generational differences in orientation and perspective.  Intrinsic values are universal values we all share.  Authentic relationships, personal development and a sense of shared purpose.  These are the values that resonate neurologically in human beings.  They are ancient, and we can still see how they manifest themselves in primal societies in which survival is highly interdependent.

Companies are coming to realize how purposefulness, of being a part of something larger than ourselves, drives engagement.  Professional development demonstrates an investment by the firm in the individual as well, implicitly communicating, “You have value and are worth investing in.”  Incorporating professional development plans for each associate engrains this message throughout the entire enterprise and can help change the tenor of the culture.

These lessons have strategic value and we are seeing this value manifest itself through the use of social media to create social branding.  Home Depot’s Aprons in Action program is an example of this application being conducted on Facebook.  Home Depot currently has a social media voting contest in place to support nonprofits that work with our veterans.  Each month, four nonprofits compete for votes to win a $25,000 gift card.  This engages both the public and their own associates to feel a part of doing something good for the community…of being a part of positive change.  Just think how much more cost-effective this is compared to a 30 second spot on television!  It sends the implicit message, “We care,” that resonates on an emotional level with the company’s stakeholders.

This approach creates deep reach.  For example, we partner with Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy (SMART) to conduct our experiential learning workshops.  In doing so, our client’s investments in leadership development, team building and sales skills programs directly supports a community nonprofit that serves children with developmental disabilities and wounded veterans returning home.  It connects the developmental process with societal meaning and demonstrates service leadership.  When we heard SMART was in Home Depot’s contest this month, we sprang to action to create a fun promotional video for the contest. This level of engagement, of being a part of something bigger than us, mobilized action in support of their needs.  With that said, we invite you to please vote for SMART by visiting the Aprons in Action link.

This is the exclamation point on the power of social branding to drive engagement throughout an enterprise’s business ecology.  Videos are made, social media networks are leveraged, blogs are written and peer opinion and shared intention drives traffic to the Home Depot Facebook page.  Value is created in every direction that benefits Home Depot, SMART, and Performance Transformation.  How we feel, about Home Depot in this example, compels positive behaviors from outside the organization that contribute to the company’s brand equity and social standing.

Perhaps more than ever, employee engagement, customer engagement, leadership, marketing and brand management, are intersecting not so much in the head, but in the heart!

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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Filed under Diversity & Inclusion, Experiential Learning, Health Care, Leadership Development, Organizational Culture, Sales Training, Strategic Planning, Team Building

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