Larry Senn, dubbed the “father of corporate culture,” brought a dramatic demonstration of the impact of positive culture to the Center’s annual CEO conference in January 2014. Senn asked the assembled executives and thought leaders to stand up. He then gave simple instructions: take the next 30 seconds to thank as many of those around you as you can.
Senn watched as people shook hands and thanked each other. Spontaneous smiles and laughter were everywhere.
“That was a strange exercise, but what just went up in the room?” he asked as people sat down. ”Energy. That’s the magic. Purpose creates energy which supports performance.”
It was an example of what Senn calls the “mood elevator,” the subject of his latest book. Senn holds that company cultures illuminated by gratitude and other positive emotions not only feel good but are the key to superior outcomes.
This isn’t just a belief. Senn has the evidence to prove it.
Senn’s firm, Senn Delaney, has conducted extensive cases studies proving a strong positive correlation between a purpose-driven culture and performance. They have worked with such leading companies as Limited Brands, United Stationers, T-Mobile, CVS, and many others. “What a wonderfully virtuous cycle it is: Doing good enables you to do well, doing well enables you to do good,” he said.
Senn loosely defined purposeful companies as those companies that strive to do both well and good. These companies are dedicated to some noble cause greater than earnings reports and salaries. Just stating a higher-ambition purpose is not enough, Senn explained. For purpose to be compelling for all employees, it must be deeply rooted in all aspects of the company and its operations. It must be at the core of the company’s strategy and be reflected in key metrics.
Powerful Purpose: The Walmart Story
Senn went so far as to attribute the success of Walmart, the largest corporation in the world, to its deeply rooted purpose. He recalled meeting Walmart founder Sam Walton in Bentonville, Arkansas just a few years after Walton had founded the company. Senn, who was working with Woolworth, one of Walmart’s largest competitors at the time, remembered leaving his meeting with Walton thinking, ‘Wow, his company is going to take over the world and Woolworth is going to die.’
The two superstores sold essentially the same products, even the same brands, but Walmart had what Woolworth lacked: Purpose. Walmart’s purpose was to better people’s lives and they were going to do it by bringing low-cost goods to rural America. Driven by purpose, Walmart went on to become the world’s largest retailer; Woolworth went defunct.
In addition to Walmart, Senn offered series of purpose-driven companies as evidence that strong purpose can lead to strong performance: USAA, Southwest Airlines, United Health Group, Limited Brands, the list goes on.
Try Senn’s experiment yourself. In your next meeting, ask people to thank each other and watch what happens.
“Purpose supports performance by evoking positive energy and emotion, inspiring people to be their highest self and aligning energy and people to a common cause,” Senn said.
For more information on Senn Delaney’s research on purpose-driven work please visit : http://www.senndelaney.com/research.html.