A noble cause is not everything

You might think that a hospital specialized in the treatment of the rarest forms of cancer would have a much higher engagement rate in its teams than a large retail chain. You would be wrong.

It’s hard to believe that a misconception could be so widely spread across companies and management books and articles as the importance of a sense of purpose is. And yet, while employee engagement certainly depends on a noble cause, this prerequisite alone is far from sufficient to engage the troops.

The counterexample of a hospital versus retail chain that illustrates this assertion comes from a study by Rob Cross, Amy Edmondson, and Wendy Murphy of more than 300 companies over 20 years. Their conclusion? A noble cause (or sense of purpose) is not enough if it is not supported by managerial behaviors that promote effective collaboration, which iskey not only to engagement but also successful transformation.

The researchers offer a diagram of the three steps towards effective collaboration:

1) trust or faith to cultivate a noble cause; 2) a noble cause that generates energy; 3) energy that promotes engagement and, therefore, collaboration.

They describe the behaviors expected at each stage (27 in total), and invite you to assess your dynamic: are you on track for successful collaboration that will engage your employees? And the day you want to galvanize your troops with a speech full of ambition (“BECAUSE IT’S OUR PROJECT!”), ask yourself if your own behaviors are enough to engage everyone.

 

To go further: “A Noble Purpose Alone Won’t Transform Your Company” by Rob Cross, Amy Edmondson, and Wendy Murphy (MITSloan Management Review, 10 December 2019)