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Your Employees' Fear Even More Terrifying Than Death

You may have seen, or at least heard of, popular surveys, that ask people to rank their fears

The hilarious outcome usually ranks death as #2, and #1 as… public speaking.

I like to joke with groups I’m speaking to, that this means most of them would rather be dead than be me!

But, all jokes aside, I believe there is another, greater fear that is in all of us.

I heard it several years ago from motivational speaker Calvin Mackie, and I’ve dwelled on it ever since. It is greater than the fear of public speaking and even greater than the fear of death itself.

It is the fear that we might come to the end of our lives and realize we have lived a life without any meaning. That is terrifying.

Each of us is yearning to find a purpose to our lives. We deeply crave an inspiring “why” to fulfill the “what” we do each day.

And because our current society is structured so that most people spend more waking hours with their co-workers than with their families, those of us who lead and manage organizations have an incredible responsibility.

While some public companies and startups have at least made attempts at helping employees understand the purpose of their work, most privately-held companies still operate without an understanding of the power they have to improve the lives of everyone they touch.

Every workday our teams entrust most of their waking hours to operating within the cultures we’ve created. If we haven’t purposefully built a culture with a mission and vision that everyone in the organization exudes, the default is what is found in many stagnating companies today.

While they may do good things with the money they make by supporting charities, many companies simply muddle through their commodity existence. Many owners I’ve met think the purpose of their company is to make money. And within that mission, the employees who end up taking jobs there are those with a worldview that the purpose of their jobs is a paycheck. At best they think, “we’re just an air conditioning company,” or, “we’re just a staffing company,” without ever embracing the deeper purpose-driven missions of “allowing more family moments by removing the stifling heat in the home,” “protecting the elderly from the dangers of extreme heat,” or “strengthening organizations by pairing them with the best talent” (we’d need a brainstorm session to do justice to the suggestions in this sentence.)

While a quick Google search will reveal that even among business gurus there is still confusion about whether a company’s purpose statement, mission statement, or vision statement define its “why”, the lesson remains the same: people want an inspiring “why” to go with their “what.”

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, lays it out well:

“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. People who love going to work are more productive and more creative. They go home happier and have happier families. They treat their colleagues and clients and customers better. Inspired employees make for stronger companies and stronger economies.”

When an organization aligns around a purpose-driven mission, communication works better, team members make smarter autonomous decisions, and customers start to understand why they should keep coming back. Recruiting talent even becomes easier as a company that is living a vision founded on a purpose-driven mission will almost automatically filter out those not in alignment.

It may seem ironic to recommend to companies struggling with profitability that they stop chasing profit. Once we understand that the purpose for our organizations is something much deeper that fills the needs and wants of those in our communities, things start to fall into place - and so does the profit.

As Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, reminds us, "Chase the vision, not the money, the money will end up following you.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Our team has worked to refine the process of defining the "why" in both an organization’s purpose and mission. They both answer a “why” but the purpose does it on a deeper level. More on that to come in another post soon.)


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