“A person can flower on a rock” (Georgian Proverb)
Firmness of purpose drives perseverance, persistence, and endurance. A clear vision of a preferred future reality engenders discretionary effort and energy invested in important strategic objectives. A compelling sense of purpose motivates resolve and diligence. This tenacity is often seen in situations like the following: defending your country or homeland with passion when under attack from a marauding neighbouring enemy; being on the frontline and caring for patients during a pandemic with little thought about being exposed to the danger you also face daily; and fighting human rights abuses consistently until the world heeds and heals the plight of the affected. These situations sometimes produce heroism in profoundly challenging circumstances, but mostly display your metal, your guts, and your determination to make a difference.
In the business arena, however, one rarely sees tenacity amongst employees unless the “cause” or “purpose” of the business is fully grasped and made one’s own. By “cause”, I mean “why the business exists”, what it is hoping to achieve, and the communities or customers it is hoping to influence positively. This “big picture” needs ongoing clarification by leadership if anyone is going to follow and work towards the purpose with vigour. A few examples of changing the view of “what we do” to “why we are doing this” might help:
- Hospital managers can demonstrate that the role of the institution is not just clinical care, but also getting patients back on their feet to enable them to make productive contributions within their respective communities.
- Producers of farming implements and machines can show employees that they play a valuable part in feeding the nation.
- Road maintenance teams can shift their gaze from “fixing potholes” to “saving lives”.
- Manufacturers of wet wipes for babies can redefine the view of their production efforts from manufacturing tasks that they have to perform daily to easing the arduous tasks that mothers or fathers must do frequently.
- Hotel housekeeping staff should rethink the concept of a clean room and fresh linen to buying into the principle of creating a wonderful experience for guests.
This shift in focus from “what we do” to “why we do what we do” is a leadership responsibility – if communicated effectively, the tenacity of employees to get it right grows. With the new purpose outlook firmly set in the hearts of employees, no obstacle or difficulty will get in the way of them achieving the desired outcome. Ideas to overcome barriers to success will flow and staff will offer extraordinary amounts of effort to make the business succeed. With determination and grit, they will work towards the higher purposes and grin whilst doing so.
A note of caution – leaders should not believe naively that just stating the visionary purpose of the company is sufficient to bring about change. Leaders need to live the change that they seek in the minds of employees. Setting the example, providing success stories, bringing in happy customers with their stories to the shop floor, designing advertising and marketing campaigns that illustrate the “big picture”, etc., are all necessary to change the culture to a “why”-driven one.
Employees can flower on a rock – no matter how difficult and challenging the task, they will exercise tenacity if the compelling purpose is strong enough.