The passion of purpose Featured

10:03am EDT July 22, 2002

Over the past several years, I've noticed that many people seem to be experiencing an ever-increasing lack of enthusiasm for their work. The "job" just seems to have lost much of its at-traction. The fire is gone from the belly. Just put in the time and get a paycheck. Week after week...month after month. People just seem to be going through the motions.

I believe the primary reason has been that organizations, as well as their people, have lost their "vision." They have lost their sense of "purpose". With all the emphasis on downsizing, rightsizing, and improving the value for the shareholders, our business leaders seem to have lost sight of the fact that the purpose of organizations is to GROW-not just to improve the short-term picture by a few percentage points, but to grow...to create new products...to build...to expand...to prosper.

Paying enormous salaries to executives who can only shrink the organization is positively ludicrous. Those salaries and perquisites should be reserved for the truly creative people who can expand an organization.

I had to chuckle last month as I was reading an article in one of the popular business magazines. It described in glowing detail the latest hot, new management techniques. I chuckled be-cause, when I sorted through all the folderol, I realized the author was describing the same techniques some of us have been stressing since the mid-'70s.

Nothing is really new, folks-just repackaged. But it does serve to remind us that some points are so important that they need to be repeated periodically to re-emphasize their value.

One technique in particular stood out in that article: the use of top-down-bottom-up objective setting. Most organizations will claim they use some form of this technique. Most do not! I've seen it used both to galvanize organizations after serious labor problems and, at other times, by organizations on the ropes financially. It has the potential to ignite a sense of passion needed by an organization to get things moving again.

Very simply, management defines several critical areas where improvements are needed (higher productivity, cost reductions, getting new products to market faster, better customer service, etc.), and the people establish their own objectives. Inevitably, those people will aim higher with the objectives they set, and they will make a greater commitment than if they were defined by management.

The people then have a greater sense of purpose about their work. After all, people at all levels need to feel their efforts are important and meaningful. If you feel they're supposed to get all of this from the paycheck alone, you're missing the point. Just look around you. You will quickly recognize that the organizations which are aggressively pursuing their markets and experiencing positive growth have more enthusiastic people. It's not just a coincidence... there is passion in the purpose.

William Armstrong is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. The second edition of his book, "Catalytic Management: Success by Design," is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and WaldenBooks stores.