Fierce Resolve
Bringing Corporate Philosophy Alive
by Jody Urquhart

If the Shoe Doesn't Fit?

Imagine this. A company has very promising and fashionable philosophies about customer service, integrity and trust. What are these glorious implications in the workplace? Nobody knows. Like beautiful footwear that doesn't fit, no one has been able to try them out. Many companies invest a lot of time and resources to develop corporate philosophies (corporate mission, vision and value statements) but employees don't buy into them because they just don't fit the actual job. In fact, some employees find these corporate philosophies loose and irritating. Why?

Often mission, vision and value statements are ambiguous. Imagine you are a new employee and the organization you work for tells you to believe in certain philosophies (like your mother made you wear certain shoes). Yet you look around and you are not sure even the manager believes or understands them. It's not clear how these polished philosophies relate to your job, yet you know they are important. This ambiguity can cause a lot of stress. You want to get your shoe in the door yet there is this massive void in your soul because you feel uneasy that the organization tells you constantly what to believe.

Pitfalls to Philosophizing

How much damage can corporate philosophies do? Here are some of the drawbacks:

1) ambiguous philosophies are hard to apply;
2) they are often created by a small group of employees and enforced on others;
3) many employees resent being told what to believe;
4) philosophy is theory. Business is a day-to-day hands on activity;
5) employees make things happen and need to be an integral part of the philosophy.

In many cases it's not so much the corporate philosophy that is the problem, it's how we apply it. Because employees are at the forefront of business activity, they need to understand a philosophy in order to apply it in different situations. If employees aren't engaged and included in the process an ambiguous statement turns them off their work. We apply a philosophy by engaging employees in it.

Terms of Endearment
How to Engage Employees in Corporate Philosophy

Which would be better: a) a group made up of strong purposeful individuals or, b) a strong purposeful group that thinks alike? A group made up of strong purposeful individuals that think on their feet and define their own standards is far more attractive. Most successful organizations have mission statements, most individuals do not. Like organizations, employees need a purpose for their work, a guiding mission that provides meaning to daily activities. Employees must come before philosophy. So, before engaging employees in a corporate philosophy, first help them uncover their own sense of purpose in their work. The following example will illustrate why this is important.

When I was a retail manager, most of our staff was young and couldn't care less about the job. This nonchalant attitude permeated the corporate culture. It was interesting to watch how quickly new staff adopted this attitude. They desperately wanted to fit in. As they loudly proclaimed, "this job sucks!" they pretended not to care about anything. The workplace defined their expectations of the job. Think of any new job you have had. When you first started, weren't you looking for signs that indicated what the culture was like? What was considered acceptable? How far employees pushed the limits? How much control the manager really had?

Employees Need to Define Themselves Outside of Others' Expectations

Corporate culture defines expectations that affect performance. This is why we need to help employees to identify and strengthen their own sense of purpose before selling corporate expectations to them. Employees must define themselves outside of the expectations of others. They must define what is purposeful about the work, what they enjoy, and what success looks like to them to enhance their sense of individual purpose. Employees with a strong sense of purpose are more accountable, self-motivated and initiating.

Strategy: Here are some tools to help encourage individual purpose in others.

  1. Get employees thinking about why they are in the job in the first place (besides to pay the rent)
  2. The core of individual purpose comes from really getting a hold of the question, What do you care about in terms of your work?
  3. The good manager continually draws the answers from employees. Just as employees draw from their paycheck you need to draw from your talent base. Create conversations about things that matter to employees, at the same time creating for them a sense of identity. When employees have their own sense of purpose they are not so easily influenced by the environment or the employees around them. They have defined a purpose for themselves that not even a change in management, a change in the job or other employees' negative opinions can take away.
  4. The Mission Test: Ask personnel at every level what the company mission is and how it affects their job. If you don't get an accurate or consistent response, it may need to be reworded.
  5. Tie everyday tasks and roles to the bigger picture like contribution to customers, the company and the overall community.

From Individual Needs to Collective Purpose

As employees are asked what they care about in their jobs the answers move away from individual concerns towards helping others, building collective purpose. Employees must take care of individual needs before they can spare enough energy to contribute to others. Through coaching and follow-up, managers can help employees care for their own needs so they can free up their energy for the group good. As Maslow's Hierarchy suggests, employees need to satisfy lower-order needs like food and shelter (pay check) and social needs (interaction) before higher order needs like purposeful work will prevail. As Maslow suggests, employees are most motivated by their strongest needs, so find out what those needs are and motivate them accordingly.

Philosophy That Fits

Use the above strategies consistently and turn your polished corporate philosophies into a fit for the job. Remember, employees are the resource that makes things happen, thus it is essential to get their buy in.

Jody Urquhart, a popular speaker and author of All Work & No SAY Takes the PASSION Away. Create a Passionate & Committed Workplace. To order your copy or to discuss having Jody speak at your next meeting, please email

Articles by Jody Urquhart | More like this in Personal Development, Executive Performance, The Leadership Imperative, and Authenticity and Ethics in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Jody Urquhart. All rights reserved.

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