According to Simon Sinek, “Studies show that over 80 percent of Americans do not have their dream job. If more knew how to build organizations that inspire, we could live in a world in which that statistic was the reverse – a world in which over 80 percent of people loved their jobs”. Nice thought. Imagine the productivity gains if the vast majority of people in any given building were inspired and not just paid.
At this point, the conversation for most of us quickly turns to purpose and the uniting of people behind an idea that is bigger than them. Intriguing then to read Tom Asacker’s take on this recently: “We’ve got this whole notion of purpose in business completely wrong. We think it’s about discovering some kind of deep meaning. A magical “why.” It’s not. It’s about something much more pedestrian. And much more powerful. Purpose is about enjoying ourselves.”
What is an enjoyable brand culture?
This seems like an idea worth exploring. But first, let’s draw a clear distinction, as we see it, between enjoyment and fun. This is a workplace, not a playground. An enjoyable brand culture is not necessarily one where there is less stress, fewer challenges, longer deadlines or an overly-optimistic level of comradery. It is one where people spend more time doing work that stimulates them, that pushes their boundaries and that materially advances the competitiveness of the brand and the changes it advocates for. So it is an environment where more of the work feels more purposeful and where people feel that, for a greater percentage of their day, their talents, experience and knowledge are being put to best use.
The struggle – for management and employees – is striking the right balance between competing agendas and mandates. The workplace most of us trudge to everyday remains an offshoot of the industrialisation of labour. Historically, the layering of process, policy and repetitive tasks was a necessity to build scalable and consistent outputs. The objectives? Consistency over creativity; uniformity over initiative. And, until quite recently, many people were happy to “go to work”; sacrificing time in a formulaic work environment for the regularity of a pay cheque. Both of those paradigms are under increased pressure and scrutiny as the focus for brands shifts from units to margins.
Less emphasis on busy, more emphasis on valuable
If brands are to continue to grow, they need to produce more valued offerings. That’s a very different state of mind than the historic model. A more fulfilled and engaged work force might be the key to unlocking these more valued offerings. Then organisations would be motivated to create environments with less emphasis on busy, more emphasis on valuable. And with that, less emphasis on not thinking (routine, predictable, unchanging), and more emphasis on rethinking (inventing, adapting, redefining).
A different view of work
So what would it take to introduce genuine enjoyment into a larger percentage of every person’s working day? A different view of work and therefore how people can work. What if we pursued effectiveness not just in the way that productivity and happiness engineers want to deal with it – standing meetings, better task-setting, allocated time access to social media – but also in the sense of narrowing what comes between the people who work for a brand and the purpose of the brand itself?
How might organisations rethink their policies and operations if they were to acknowledge that boredom, paperwork and unnecessary meetings were sapping employees feelings of purpose, motivation and fulfilment?
How about if we made delivering enjoyment the responsibility of all members of the executive team rather than a task tossed over to HR to address?
Might we actually get further down the track to genuinely creating environments that provided people with work that inspired them if we assessed organisational performance on the basis of how much people enjoyed what they do?
A change of spirit
These are whole-of-business issues because the need for brands to be enjoyable has perhaps never been greater. Our expectations, as consumers, of user interface, of service, of functionality are firmly aligned with pleasure principles. We buy stuff we like using. For brands to genuinely deliver on such expectations, the workplace must evolve from one of compliance and conformity to one of entrepreneurship, passion and commitment. That will only be attainable if a higher emphasis is placed on this notion of enjoyment.
It takes motivated people with plenty of ideas, and the energy to pursue them, to deliver the inspired enhancements and genuinely novel ideas that give brands a kick in today’s economies. Stagnant cultures filled with uninspired people crammed in cubicles and locked into silo-ed thinking can only generate standardised, stagnant brands that less and less people want anything to do with. As a culture and as a brand, the rule is increasingly stark: Enjoy – or die.
The pursuit of enjoyment doesn’t necessarily rule out pursuing a higher “why”. But, for a lot of people, the current “why”, if there is one, may be too abstract and too removed from what they actually get to do to be meaningful. That might also suggest that people need the right combination of universal and personal purpose in order to chase a goal that is fulfilling to them at all levels.
Co-authored with Hilton Barbour, Freelance Strategist & Marketing Provocateur. Hilton has led global assignments ranging from Coca-Cola, IBM, Motorola and Enron to Ernst & Young and Nokia. Working as a freelance strategist allows him to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about business, people and trends. An avid blogger, Hilton’s personal mantra is “Question Everything”. Follow him at @ZimHilton.