What did 9/11 teach the business world? - Preparing you for the future of work.

What did 9/11 teach the business world?

Sunday, 11 September 2016, marked the 15th anniversary of the day on which two hijacked airliners were flown by religious radicals into the Twin Towers in New York. That day changed America for ever and, for that matter, changed the world for ever.

There have been many lessons that have emerged from that tragic day on which 2,996 innocent people were killed and a further 6,000 were injured. Few business leaders have, however, grasped one of the key messages that emerged for all businesses.

Until 11 September 2001, business leaders have sought to motivate, inspire and engage their employees by getting them to embrace the company’s mission and vision.

The term “mission statement” first appeared in the 1960s and, over time, found its way into the business world – further evidence of how militarised the business world is as “mission” is essentially a military term. Briefly, a company’s mission statement clarifies a company’s overall goal as to what it wants to achieve. Its vision statement is intended to clarify its reasons for what it wants to achieve and set out how it’s going to do so.  

There are some good mission and vision statements and there are some poor ones. No matter whether they’re good or bad, though, the events that took place on 11 September 2001 signalled the end of the era for mission and vision statements.

That was the day that heralded the new era for the way to engage, motivate, inspire and retain talent. That was the day that the “cause” was announced to the world as the key factor in business success.

That day showed the whole world in a matter of minutes just how powerful having a cause is and what can be achieved by people who have embraced a particular cause.

A mission and vision are well and good but they appeal only to our intellect so they elicit a fairly cold, rational, intellectual response. A cause, on the other hand, reaches and owns the heart, and generates a passionate commitment that the intellect could never produce.

Without a cause, companies get only reluctant effort. And because they get only reluctant effort, they are forced to spend millions on all sorts of additional incentives for their talent to get them to perform at their peak.

When companies have a genuine cause that gives meaning and purpose to their employees, the game changes. As 9/11 showed the world in a very powerful way, people will die for a cause. They don’t have to be incentivised and motivated and encouraged. Once they have embraced the cause, that’s it. They will do what ever it takes to do what they have to do, no matter the cost.

Now I am not for one second suggesting that people should die for a company’s cause. I merely make the point to demonstrate how powerful a cause is.     

The need to move from a mission and vision to a cause has not yet percolated into the collective consciousness of business leaders. Some have, as I mentioned earlier, almost subconsciously embraced a cause but, until business leaders recognise that the mission and vision are now “last century” and that the cause is what has replaced them, they will blunder along trying the same old, same old, over and over again, hoping against hope that something might change. They will grapple with themselves as to why their workers need so much work just to get them to perform but will never find an answer.

A cause must speak to all three generations in the workplace – the Boomers, Gen Y and the Millennials. It should not leave any of them out. When leaders are able to identify and express an appropriate cause for their companies, they will trigger a force so powerful that their challenge will be to channel and guide it appropriately rather than have to urge people to do things they really don’t want to do.

What kind of effort would you like in your company? Reluctant effort or passionate effort? It’s your choice …

Find and communicate your company’s cause and you’ll guarantee your company’s future!

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and a professional speaker. He assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery so that they can live and lead with greatness.


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