Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Culture was far more important to an organization’s success
Peter Drucker maintained that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” - meaning that culture was far more important to an organization’s success than all its strategies. But where does the culture of a group or organization come from? It comes from the stories its members tell themselves. About why they’re there, why they’re doing what they’re doing, why they’re working with one another, who and what they're serving.
We've read of employer consultants conducting studies purporting to outline the causes of bad hires - where all of the reasons for the bad hires are the fault of the employees.
This is nonsense, and buying into it will harm every metric and real person in your organization. It’s time to stop blaming the employee for poor hiring results, from short retention to low engagement. It’s employers who create (or fail to create) the meaning around what they are doing. Employers create the meaning (and job description!) for the job in which they have placed the employee.
Stories are equipment for living
Meaning’s absence becomes depression. In the workplace, it becomes the catastrophically low employee engagement that makes a mockery of our multi-billion-dollar talent industry while setting up blockades to productivity, creativity, and retention. On the other hand, the meaning a candidate is able to sustain in and from her work, married with her strengths, is the recipe for both the Flow state in individuals and what makes teams most productive.
Meaning, like the culture that grows out of it, eats strategy for breakfast. What is culture? The accumulation of stories, or meaning, about and within an organization. And as the writer Kenneth Burke points out, “Stories are equipment for living.” We see organizations struggling to adapt to this reality: thus was born the idea of the Employer Brand.
But most employers are not executing well at all on what that means, and their failures are like self-inflicted wounds bleeding them of impact and profitability. Very likely the single greatest failing of both the Employer Brand and the job description is their inexplicable failure to address - and to hire for - the job seeker’s need for meaning and purpose. For decades, companies’ offer to job seekers has consisted of what have been called Compensation and Benefits, where the “Benefits” say nothing about employees’ why because these benefits refer to retirement plans, health insurance, and, sometimes, ownership.
Human resource departments often have staff dedicated to administering employee benefits of this limited kind. But we know that’s not all that makes people choose jobs. When Steve Jobs pressed Pepsi executive Steve Scully to come to Apple, he didn’t, as far as we know, spend a lot of time on the private driver and health insurance available at Apple. What he said instead was this: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?
Man does not live by bread alone
So said a carpenter living in a tiny fishing village almost two thousand years ago. Unique among all the animals, humans are capable of creating, interpreting, and choosing a meaning in events.
But the carpenter and other great minds go even further: we cannot survive at all, let alone thrive, without meaning in our lives. “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” wrote Shakespeare, echoing a Buddha he likely knew nothing about.
“Humanity's purpose,” Yuvah Noah Harari tells us in Sapiens, “rests in the spectacular drive of our minds to extract meaning from the world around us.”
There have been people in every society who understood the crucial importance of meaning and purpose. Artists, clerics, explorers, inventors - all united in their purposefulness, or for their search for meaning, or the revision of it.
Viktor Frankl, in his Man’s Search for Meaning, concluded that it was meaning, and above all, love, that helped him survive the Holocaust’s concentration camps.
Frankl believed that the crucial human drive was not the pleasure principle, as Freud maintained, or power, as Alfred Adler claimed, but meaning. The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert speak of the “two hungers", the Great Hunger and the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger is about food in the belly. The Great Hunger, the greatest of all, is the hunger for meaning.
This is all born out in tremendous advances in research over the last hundred (and especially thirty) years. Meaning and its progeny, purpose, are the difference - the primary difference, as it turns out - between the person who gives up after getting knocked down and the person who perseveres.
Between those who die soon after a heart attack, retirement, or death of a spouse and those who go on for decades, even flourish. Between an employee who sandbags and surfs social media at one type of work and rises into the stratosphere of productivity and quality at another.
Between the most successful teams at Google and everyone else. “He who has a why to live,” Nietzsche knew long ago, “can bear almost any how.”
Meaning Moves the Needle Most:
Hiring Success, Profits, Productivity, Diversity, Innovation
Organizations’ lack of serious attention to the meaning of work at all levels is particularly difficult to comprehend because meaning is especially good for the organization. Indeed, organizations that invest in employer branding are three times more likely to make a quality hire.
McKinsey, summarizing the research, tells us that “people who believe their job has meaning and a broader purpose are more likely to work harder, take on challenging or unpopular tasks, and collaborate effectively. Research repeatedly shows that people deliver their best effort and ideas when they feel they are part of something larger than the pursuit of a paycheck.”
Gallup lays out the results of enormous research into the most important values workers have: “most workers,” they say, “want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life.”
Research confirms that people are more motivated and persistent when they think about why they are doing something (for instance, losing weight to become healthy) instead of what they are doing (eating a salad).
After the fund-raisers met the student, they focused less on what they were doing (making unpleasant phone calls) and more on why (helping students fund their college education). When people understand and believe in the reasons behind their actions, they display greater resilience and stamina.
Gallup continues: “A strong employer brand attracts and retains workers and turns them into advocates for the company. It differentiates their organization from the next.
Organizations that ignore the need for employer branding could miss their chance to keep talented staff onboard and therefore reduce turnover and maintain productivity.”
Not surprisingly, meaning becomes the very fuel of valuation. At the best companies, a large supermajority of employees (85%) believe their work has some special meaning, even if just to them: it’s not just a job.
Purpose-driven companies have seen 400% higher returns on the stock market than companies in the benchmark S&P 500. Why are these 50 fastest-growing brands doing better? Consumers, being human, care about meaning and purpose. Deeply. The fast 50 are in effect the vanguard that announces we’ve begun a new phase of capitalism.
When customers care, they buy more.The fastest-growing companies are providing the meaning. Meaning is one of the crucial ingredients in the nuclear reaction of Flow, which is the ultimate productivity drug. Meaning drives retention too: in one study, employees of meaning-driven companies were 14 times more likely to look forward to coming to work and 11 times more likely to be committed to staying.