There’s nothing like working aboard a ship at sea, thousands of miles from land and safety, to clarify you and your crewmate’s primary goal: staying alive and arriving at your destination port. Years at sea and working in other dangerous jobs as a young man cultivated the high degree of focus and singlemindedness that I bring to everything I do.
But how do you motivate a team that is comfortably docked in an office? A paycheck, most obviously, but even money has its limitations. Studies have found that uniting employees around a common purpose is the most powerful driver—even more so than compensation.
At my company, Beam Global, our mission is clear: lead the world to clean mobility. We design, create, and manufacture elegant solutions to deliver a quality of life people desire, sustainably and without damaging the planet. All Beam employees, from the welders on the warehouse floor, to my colleagues in the executive suite, share the same goal—to make the world a cleaner, better place. While not every company is devoted to protecting the planet, every company has the power to rally its employees around a greater cause, creating a workforce collectively striving to achieve a shared vision.
Purpose Fosters Productivity
A purpose-driven team is about more than just warm and fuzzy feelings. Employees who feel that their work is making a real impact are more productive and innovative, driving an enterprise’s bottom line. Highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable. People like to feel that they’ve had an impact each day; my job is to put them in a position where they can. When your team shows up every day passionate about what you’re all trying to accomplish together, they’ll strive to find ways to improve. Any businesses’ greatest resource is the creativity of its employees. Why not maximize that creative potential to propel your organization forward?
This sense of commitment to, and investment in, work fosters loyalty to an organization. Data shows that employees who derive meaning from work are three times more likely to stay at their jobs. People who love what they do don’t want to leave. Higher staff retention rates cultivate institutional knowledge and can save a business millions of dollars in recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training costs. Such stability can increase morale and create a sense of workplace community.
Purpose is a universal human driver. I have seen the power of igniting energy and enthusiasm across a group as both CEO and while serving as my son’s Cub Scout Pack Master. The boys’ common goals and strong feeling of group connection during camping trips and community service projects helped them excel and drew dozens more youngsters to join them—no paycheck required.
Building a Purpose-Driven Workplace
Fostering a sense of purpose doesn’t happen spontaneously through positive thinking and platitudes. Rather, leaders must take concrete, substantive steps to cultivate authentic purpose across their workforce. That starts with abandoning a top-down, authoritarian management style, obsessed solely with performance and profit. Employees’ positive attitudes toward their work, their colleagues, and the company at large are vitally important contributors to success and as a result, quarterly earnings What makes your team tick? How can you make them feel they are making a difference? What would enable them to do their best work? Understanding them as people, not cells on a spreadsheet, is paramount.
Beyond taking a human-centered approach to individual employees, managers must articulate a business’ purpose clearly, compellingly, and to the entire organization. A committee drafting a mission statement is a nice first step; nurturing true meaning means integrating purpose into every strategy and every speech, sparking inspiration so that every employee understands exactly why what they do matters. Such universal understanding can transform company culture.
Inspired colleagues are empowered colleagues. Trust your mid-level leaders to motivate their teams and reinforce shared goals. People thrive when they are fulfilled and offered the space to succeed. Delegating purpose-building taps employees’ energy and talent, strengthening every individual’s connection to their work.
Many of these qualities surrounding drive and purpose are intangible, impossible to fully capture on a resume. To me, an individual’s character is more critical than their specific skill set. You can always teach someone the particulars of a job’s requirements and responsibilities. But you cannot train them in the underlying character traits—grit, determination, loyalty, commitment, creativity—that enable people to power through and work for something they believe in.
That focus on character is one reason why I prioritize hiring military veterans. Veterans have put themselves in harm’s way for a cause larger than themselves. A letter-perfect resume is much less important than the fact that they live their values, pursuing ideals such as honor, duty, sacrifice, and the commitment to leave no one behind.
Pride of Ownership
At my organization, walking the walk means giving employees equity in the company. Our team is truly part of a larger movement, where building a more sustainable world can also help them build a more secure future for themselves and their families. Every team member – even, perhaps especially, on the manufacturing floor – who has been with the company for more than six months receives equity. People’s paychecks pay their bills; it is my hope that a stake in Beam will help grow real wealth for our entire team. Our valued workers take pride of ownership in what they do and are rewarded with true ownership on a larger scale.
Real leadership means defining your purpose, analyzing opportunities and challenges, assembling capable teams, empowering them to shine, and most importantly, taking decisive action aligned with that purpose. In every industry I’ve helped lead, whether maritime, telecommunications, or energy, I’ve let my purpose guide me. One of my personal heroes, intrepid Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, offers continual inspiration—a man who, against unimaginable odds, kept his team together, and survived. His life, at sea and in Antarctica embodied the power of purpose, selflessness, and the belief that some things are more important than personal gain, comfort or even safety, demonstrating that a united team is limited only by their imaginations.
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