Here's what we've learned. Successful leaders work with their team to create, develop, nurture and execute on a shared sense of purpose. It's an essential ingredient for great organizations. Without that purpose, everything is harder than it should be. If you are looking to understand how to evolve your organization, to make it agile, effective, innovative;  if you want to set the standard for whatever it is you do, consider the role that purpose plays on your team -- is it central to your thinking? Is it current? Is everyone focused on it? Does everyone understand it?

There are several doors that are unlocked by purpose.

  1. Engagement -- The notion that an engaged workforce is vastly more effective than a disengaged workforce is working its way into the mainstream, in no small part due to the seminal research and well presented reports of Blessing White. But engagement is not an objective, it's a side effect of being part of a purpose-driven organization. You measure the quality of leadership by the level of engagement. You do not build engagement, you build purpose-driven teams.
  2. Collaboration -- We know that diverse teams accomplish more, of higher quality and faster than individuals on their own. But the key enabler of collaboration is a shared objective and mission. Without these shared interests teams flounder.
  3. Prioritization -- In a world of endless possibilities -- how do we decide what we do and do not pursue? Purpose is the filter for evaluating what pursuits will be of greatest value.
  4. Decision making -- Every project consists of hundreds of decisions -- some large, some minute. Without clear criteria, decisions are difficult to make -- how do we pick from a variety of options? Purpose can be the northstar -- the direction that helps make these decisions make sense.

With a clear sense of purpose, each of these is easier. Without it each can become a quagmire. If you're looking to improve the efficiency, quality, impact of your organization -- your best investment might be in your purpose. Why now? Because this whole Enterprise 2.0/Social Business thing is not just about relationships and communication. A connected organization is a perfect vehicle for Leadership. A connected organization makes leadership more effective, and opens opportunities for new kinds of leaders and leadership to evolve.

When people are motivated to do great things, and they are aligned with the other people they are working with on the goal -- when they are part of something together- - things work. Apple, Zappos, Amazon, Chrysler, the United Nations, the Navy Seals -- these are the kinds of teams that have a shared purpose. These are the teams that set a new standard for what an organization can do.

We've set up a speaker series to introduce you to some of the thinkers, scholars and businesspeople who've helped shape our view of teams, leadership and collaboration, and our focus on the pursuit of purpose. The series starts July 11 with Simon Sinek ("Start With Why"). If you'll be in New York, please join us. [Sign up here - we only have 100 seats].

To illustrate the point I've written this somewhat exaggerated "letter" about what it's like to work in an organization where the purpose is not yet clear or has become fuzzy. A lot of what this Enterprise 2.0/ Social Business thing is about is recognizing that these new communications tools are not just a channel for "engagement" or "collaboration" but also a very important medium for leadership '- the relationships and transparency of a well functioning social business expands the reach and impact of leadership, at the same time as creating opportunities for new kinds of leadership.

An Open Letter to the C-Suite from Your Team

RE: The Engagement Thing

Dear Leadership Team of the Disengaged Organization,

We -- your team -- are here for you. In every sense.

Do you ever wonder why everything seems to be much harder than it should be? We do too.
You've hired us to do the work you want to get done. We've recently heard you say that you want to build engagement and collaboration within the organization.

We hope that you mean it. We want to collaborate and we want to care and we want to engage, but there are some things holding us back.

First -- We have no idea what you're up to. Or what you want. You might think we do, but trust us, we don't. We do not understand your objectives and your strategy. And, perhaps most importantly, we don't know what kind of decisions you're making. If you are still working out some of the issues, let us know where you are on the journey. Include us. If you have made progress in your thinking share it with us often. Really often -- not just on quarterly calls. An internal blog or more informal notes to us on a regular basis will help us feel more connected, understand and support your work.

Second -- because there is this mystery about what is going on in your heads -- a lack of transparency -- we invent and imagine your reasoning. What we make up is usually entirely wrong. We invent all kinds of strange justifications for what we see -- or don't see -- you doing. A little transparency will not only build our confidence in you, but it will help us build our relationships with each other.

Third -- Because we don't know your thoughts on the purpose and value of our organization or whether and how you're trying to form them or fulfill them, we struggle to work with one another as a team. We lack the key criterion for collaboration -- a shared sense of purpose. My esteemed colleague over there is doing what he thinks is right, or feels serves his interests, and I'm over here doing the same. Since we don't have a shared goal or framework for evaluating objectives, we don't have shared interests, and we have trouble agreeing on the right path. It's not always pretty. Our mutual respect is eroded. Sometimes it can get nasty. Guess who suffers? We do. And you do. And our customers do. And our shareholders do (I've heard you might own some stock as well).

Fourth -- That missing sense of purpose? It also impacts our ability to make a decision. And yours. Many decisions become political in the absence of a clear goal or outcome. Many important issues become a matter of opinion, because there are not clear criteria for decision making -- that is, there's no clear vision which guides other decisions small and large. Worse -- we're never certain when a decision is final, because political decisions tend to get made and remade -- it's never clear when it's over, and we spend way, way too much of our valuable time and energy fighting these battles rather than serving our customers. We lose our will.

Fifth -- We are, as I said, on your side. If you give us the chance to be part of your team you'll win our hearts and minds. We want to be won. We want to be recognized for our expertise and hard work, and feel that that work is effectively directed at a meaningful outcome. We assure you that we understand the market, our customers and our business, and that we know how to make it better -- but we do need the alignment of good leadership so that our efforts amplify one another rather than cancel each other out.

Sixth -- Platitudes can be toxic -- please avoid them. We all know what's going on here, and when you tell us that you recognize it too, you give us confidence that we can in fact make progress and make a difference. When you give us a whitewashed version of reality, well that is something that's very transparent. We really do understand that most issues are not simple. We understand that there can be a lot of gray area. Show us where the gray is and how you're trying to clarify it. Give us substantive insight into which is which and how you're currently thinking about the bad and the ugly. We won't bullshit you if you wont bullshit us.

Seventh -- You are probably worried that if you share the difficulty and complexity of the business with the entire team, that the world will know your secrets and the business will be ruined. We understand why you feel that way. But a team has loyalty, and we won't knowingly compromise you, especially if you're clear with us what should be "just between us". Don't forget that most people and businesses are shamed not by their flaws, but by what they do to hide them. Respect is earned when people strive to do better. If you want to do better, we need to leave behind the fiction that we're perfect. (Because if we are perfect, we then there's no need to improve, right?)

Respect us by acknowledging what's not perfect and hold us responsible for the answers. You will earn our respect and ambition when you share your burden with us. Respect from the team -- and the market -- will follow. The downside risk hasn't changed -- if it goes wrong the market will be disappointed.

Trust us with your confidence and your doubts. Look to us for solutions. You will be amazed at what we can do in just a few weeks.

Earnestly yours,
Your entire organization.

Engagement is Not a Business Goal

The term "Employee Engagement" has burst forth in the last year and for some as a business imperative and rallying cry. This is in no small part due to the excellent research published by Blessing White in 2008 and refreshed just this year. This was the first widely circulated research to carefully define and quantify levels of engagement from "engaged" -- meaning an employee is fully bought into his job, her company and is bringing all of their talent and energy to the task, to disengaged, where the employee hates their job, company, etc. In the 2011 report, fully 17% of employees hate their job, and less than a third are loving it.

They are now starting to correlate financial performance with engagement levels -- they haven't nailed the issue yet, but they have some nice beginnings.

But here's the thing -- engagement is not an objective, it's a temperature check. Your goal is not to have a body temp of 98.6 degrees. You check your temp when something's wrong.

So what is engagement an indicator of? What causes it to be high or low.

An engaged workforce is jointly striving to do something they view as important, and each individual in that organization believes that their contribution is materially important to the outcome. This means that they are doing their best, bringing their creativity to the table. They are quick to find and resolve problems -- swarming around them as necessary to get the job done. Daniel Pink's book "The Surprising Science of Motivation" shows that autonomy, mastery and purpose are the key components of motivation (another word for engagement). Put another way, that means that people believe their work is important, that they are good at their jobs and continually improving, and have the ability to act in a way that makes a difference.

Let me get to the punch line here.

People are engaged when they feel they are an important part of something important. That means that engagement is predicated on knowing and believing in the organization's purpose.

Purpose. Without a strong sense of purpose, engagement will always be low. What is purpose? Purpose is a precise and shared understanding of what your organization's unique value is to your customers and the world. Zappos wants to make people happy. Nike wants to ignite and enable your athletic aspirations. Amazon wants to offer limitless variety. They are all profit-oriented concerns, but they strongly believe (and who are we to disagree) that the surest route to profit is to create something of undeniable value for their customers.

Blessing White notes a strong correlation between engagement and trust in executives. What does that mean?

That means that you must have one, and you must have the leadership capacity to keep the focus on that purpose, and help each person feel connected with it.

In the last few years, we have all accepted as desirable cultural traits the ideas of "collaboration" and "engagement". Many people have talked about why these values are, uh, valued. The The Shift Index, from the venerable Hagel and Seely Brown duo at Deloitte, discusses these things, as does Steven Dennings Radical Management. These two are just a couple of the noteworthy recent references on the topic. There are dozens more.

But do we just decide to be more engaging and collaborative? Does wishing it make it so? What really get's people's juices flowing? What makes a team, an organization click? Why are some organizations endlessly political and others brim over with enthusiasm and esprit de corp? Is it the people? The "culture"? the industry?

It's is not any of those things. People work together and collaborate well when they have a sense of what David Brooks calls "Limerence" those "moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away" and people experience a deep sense of intellectual intimacy. Daniel Pink shares his research into what motivates people in cognitive tasks -- autonomy, mastery and purpose. Simon Sinek divides the world of organizations into the "whys" and the 'whats" with the "whys" winning every time.

For the last couple of years I've been working in the enterprise 2.0/social collaboration market. I've learned a couple of things out in this jungle. We can accurately predict who will be successful with our collaboration tools. We can predict it with 100% accuracy. There's only one criteria. A sense of mission and a sense of purpose.

Not a mission statement, crafted in the late 90's and framed on the wall somewhere. I mean a deep, omnipresent, constantly pursued sense of what the organization is about. What it's for.

People want to matter. They want to do great things. Nobody goes to work hoping to be dull. What holds them back? Sometimes management does. And sometimes lack of it. And sometimes it's personal issues. But in a purpose driven organization, every conversation, every meeting is infused with "how do we get better at making this important difference". The company is creating value faster than its taking it out of the market.

The purpose acts as the primary criteria for decision-making. Without a purpose, there is only the balance sheet and politics. There is no way to make durable, impactful decisions in the absence of purpose, so politics becomes the primary factor. People become competitive, self-protective kingdom builders. Power and talent is used for personal gain, not constructive, purposeful outcomes.

Or worse, they are just disaffected. Disengaged is the term used in the invaluable Blessing White research. The net result is people going through the motions.

But when people have a shared purpose, a mission, an aspiration, politics recedes into the background and talent is engaged. People strive. To do the right thing, to do the best they can.

A long time ago I worked on such a team. It was awesome. We loved each other and our jobs and we did incredible things. Then things changed. The team was broken up. And the new team couldn't do the same things. We couldn't do the impossible. Ever since then, I've been trying to always find ways to restore the power and euphoria of that first team again. To regain that heart-pumping feeling that we could do anything. Together. I've dedicated myself to understanding the difference for myself, and so that we could change the norms of how people work.

Then about a year ago, I found an fantastic opportunity to work on technology that helps people to eliminate the barriers and complexities and banalities of teamwork -- the impossible task of keeping in synch, understanding, seeing opportunities, building and leveraging on what's been done before and on each person's contributions. Of course you know that being collaborative is not a technology problem, but good, useful, simple, powerful tools certainly help.

I now enjoy the extraordinary privilege of working with some extraordinary people, including Anthony Gallo and Scott Bowen, Jason Varmazis and Dave Wormald, Ian, Mitro, Dawn, Greg, and many more. And yes, we've got a solid dose of that "team" magic.

As we set out, Anthony asked me "what is the essence of what this is for, what is the gestalt of it?" And so I tossed off some stuff. And we worked at the whiteboard. For months. I would send him one-liners. From my car. From my desk. From the playground. And he would say "yes, but....".

And then finally we got it. Really got it. Our mission is to support the purpose-driven organization. To support your pursuit of it, your understanding of it, your spreading of it, but most importantly, your execution of it.
The Purpose-Driven company. Driven by purpose, powered by teams. Collaborative teams -- in the deepest sense of the term. Scott championed our approach throughout the company. We are a team -- different personalities and talents that wanted to build something that mattered. To you.

And so -- today it begins. We launched a new website that tries to convey our thinking about purpose. How our customers and research have taught and inspired us, and invite you to join on our ride here.

Our team at OpenText (Note the new one-word version of the name. We need to put a dollar in the curse jar every time we screw it up.) celebrating what we've learned. A nod to the organizations who's greater purpose drives them to do great things. We are celebrating you, and your purpose. Our goal is to provide something of value to you.

We're beginning with a series of lectures and discussions to help you explore the idea, the value and the experience of being purpose-driven mission and purpose, and how it can transform your organization and the world. Simon Sinek will be our first speaker in NYC at 9am on July 11 at the cool Ace Hotel. He's fabulous -- if you haven't seen him in person, I really hope you can join us. He just hums with passion and intensity. (you can register here or on that shiny new website)

Please tell us what does and doesn't matter to you. The best is yet to come.