Imbuing Your Organization with Purpose

Gerry Anderson is the CEO of Detroit-based DTE Energy. He once said, “Creating organizations of excellence and energy is the most real thing you can do.” He didn’t always believe that, but the challenges he faced as a CEO pushed him to become bilingual. One of the most important things he learned from the positive mental map was the importance of imbuing purpose in your company and your people. Some of the things he learned came as a result of a visit to USAA.

Joe Robles of USAA was on the board of DTE Energy. USAA is an insurance company that has a reputation for excellence. Gerry went to Texas to observe Joe’s company. They visited a call center, which is often a discouraging place to work. At this particular call center, however, Gerry did not find discouragement. He found people who were fully engaged in what they were doing. They had a positive work culture. They were bringing their discretionary energy to work.

What Gerry observed exceeded his expectations. He was fascinated, and he peppered Joe with questions about USAA’s culture. Joe then made a momentous statement. “The primary purpose of a leader is to connect people to their purpose.”

Earlier in his career, Gerry might have resisted this notion. In the conventional mental map, the purpose of management is to solve problems, to continually return things to equilibrium, to provide the financial incentive for people to do their jobs. But, in the positive mental map, the company is also a social network that needs to move forward collectively—learning, growing, and changing as a single unit. For this to happen, people need more than financial incentives. They also need to find meaning and purpose in their work. When they do, they give more and the organization gets more. Gerry could now see this and was ready to pursue purpose.

Joe showed Gerry a video on how the leaders at USAA connect people to the organizational purpose. Gerry was impressed, and when he returned home, he had his people begin to work on a similar video for DTE Energy. An initial test group gave it a standing ovation. Some union members working in the plants watched it and cried. In reflecting on this moment, Gerry shared what is now a core belief. “When people see their work as important, they are willing to give their discretionary energy.”

In a positive organization people bring their discretionary energy to work because there work matters and they feel they are a part of something bigger than self.

Reflection:

Do I bring my discretionary energy to work?

Do my people bring their discretionary energy to work?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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