Look around. Where are all the really talented people? Are they working in your company? Odds are they aren’t, they are working at companies like Zappos, 37Signals, Google, Facebook, or the thousands of amazing tech startups that aren’t bound by the traditional factory mentality that infects so many businesses.
Why is this important? It’s important because empires are no longer built in factories, empires are built in the mind. Now, more than ever, your greatest assets are the people you employ. So if you aren’t employing the most talented people out there, if you can’t attract talent, or you can’t retain talent, your time as a company is severely limited.
In years past, you could successfully run your company using the factory model, where industrial engineering ruled and creating processes to squeeze out one more unit per hour was the rule. When people were components and numbers on a spreadsheet, when people were interchangeable and no productivity was lost when the day shift ended and the swing shift started, you could treat people like a part of the process. Now that the factories are gone, if you continue to treat people like they work in a factory, a factory worker is what you will get, task executors, while the uber talented, people that create, flee to companies where culture & purpose are tightly integrated with profit.
The bad news is, cultivating culture & purpose is really hard. The good news is, you don’t have any other choice than to take up the challenge.
I believe that purpose is where every company should start. If you have a purpose, your culture naturally develops to support that purpose. Culture isn’t a game room, culture isn’t free soda, culture isn’t a foosball table. Culture simply is the sum of the people that are attracted to your purpose. Everything else, the amazing benefits, the flexible work schedule, the work environment, the autonomy, is just a reflection of the culture.
If you don’t have a purpose, you get a “default purpose” defined by profit and the process put in place to ensure that the lowest common denominator isn’t hurting your profit, this is the same purpose that drove the factories and we already know what happened to them.
The problem is that companies are willing to give purpose & culture lip service, they talk a good game, but as soon as profits come into question, purpose and culture get thrown out the window. This might solve the short term problem but it introduces a longer term problem that may be difficult if not impossible to overcome.
Daniel Pink said it well, “when the profit motive gets unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen.” Bad things like your factory, that once dominated the landscape, being torn down, replaced with a field of wild flowers because 4 guys in a garage can produce more profit than your massive factory ever did.
In order for this to work, you need a purpose and a culture to support it. Once you have that, give people what they need and get out of the way. Create an environment where people don’t have to wait to be told to “go”, they just start. That takes trust, so build a company that attracts people to your purpose, people you can trust, and reap the rewards.