Purpose-Driven Employees: How to Motivate With Knowledge

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Great Game of Business" by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have purpose-driven employees? How do you share company goals with employees?

One of the best ways to engage your employees is to create a purpose for your company and share it with employees. In The Great Game of Business, Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham explain how to enforce your company’s purpose so your employees are inspired by it.

Continue reading to learn how to encourage purpose-driven employees that are on board with the company’s goals.

Explain Your Company Purpose

To create an accessible company, you need to have purpose-driven employees. These are employees that understand what the company does (the specific products or services it offers), your company goals, and your company purpose. This may seem like information employees would already have, but Stack and Burlingham say many employees only really understand the part of the company they’re directly involved in. They may not understand the company’s purpose—its reason for existing beyond making money—or what its goals are. This narrow view can stop employees from taking ownership or supporting the company’s larger goals.

In contrast, Stack and Burlingham imply that purpose-driven employees are more likely to take ownership and work hard to support the company’s goals. When employees understand the company’s operations, goals, and purpose, they can better understand how their actions are significant to its success or failure. This encourages them to feel proud of their contributions and work hard to affect the company in a positive way.

For example, let’s say Shelly is a car saleswoman. When her company increases accessibility, she learns that its purpose is to decrease crashes and protect its customers. Shelly realizes that she’s contributing to this purpose by selling features that are designed to protect customers—for example, upgraded mirrors or airbags. This inspires her to be more passionate when selling upgraded cars to customers, since she now knows the features exist to help and protect people, rather than just existing to make the company more money. 

Stack and Burlingham argue that directly stating the company’s purpose, goals, and operations is the most effective method of education. Tell employees what the company as a whole cares about and how it’s supporting those things. The onboarding process and meetings with established employees are good opportunities for sharing this information.

The Psychology of Memory in Business

Stack and Burlingham explain that many employees only understand the parts of their company they’re directly involved in, and this narrow view can discourage ownership. But why do employees lack this broader understanding? It might have to do with how memory works: Humans have a limited amount of memory, so the brain has to prioritize remembering relevant information while forgetting irrelevant information.

Unfortunately for companies, what the brain deems relevant depends on the individual and may not include the larger operations of a company. In the employees’ minds, remembering the details of their personal tasks is most important, since those are the memories that can directly affect them—if they forget how to complete their tasks properly, they can lose their jobs. In comparison, the company’s overall goals and operations are less immediately important and so are forgotten.

Discussing the company’s organization, goals, and purpose in the onboarding process and meetings, as Stack and Burlingham suggest, is a great way to counter this memory loss. Stressing these larger concepts’ importance and relevance to a job’s day-to-day activities encourages employees to form connections between these concepts and their tasks. These connections make the company’s organization, goals, and purpose feel more relevant and thus make them more easily remembered. In turn, this encourages employees to work harder to fulfill them.
Purpose-Driven Employees: How to Motivate With Knowledge

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  • The best and most efficient way to create a successful business
  • Why employees should see the company as theirs rather than just somewhere they work
  • The principles of fostering employee ownership

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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