It Ain’t (Just) About the Pay; Purpose Matters!

Now that we’ve worked through a big-picture idea covering the importance of leading with a clear purpose and some very specific steps we can take to paint a clear picture of the purpose our organization is striving to achieve, all while staying dialed in our own definite purpose as we push through it all, let’s change our focus to be sure we’re helping every individual on our teams work toward a purpose that’s just as clear. For those of us who have accepted the responsibility of leading a team (of any size), we’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it CAN’T be just about the pay. The same holds true for great people in any other role as well!

Several years ago, while I was still providing safety and human resources support for a local company on a part time basis but working every other waking minute in our business, I bumped into someone at a career fair (where I was representing the local company) who said, “I’m seriously considering starting a business like yours and offering leadership training.” Cindy and I had developed a relatively strong local presence at the point, our social media following was starting to gain traction, and we had hosted some fairly large events. At face value, I can certainly understand why they made that statement. But I responded with the most transparent answer I possibly could, saying that I would absolutely recommend it as long as they were willing to make some large upfront investments into infrastructure and licensing while working nearly every waking hour for their first few years without taking a salary for themselves. Their facial expression showed me the clarity of purpose (or lack thereof) they had for making their initial statement… I’ve shared a bit about our purpose, and I’ll go into more detail on that later on, so you have some idea of why we’ve been willing to do what we do. Let’s be completely honest here though, having a clear purpose isn’t something that’s just for leaders!

As I’ve said multiple times already, leading is hard… But so is delivering outstanding results consistently and being a great team member - in any organization! Nearly all of us are faced with choosing our career based on money or passion; we rarely get to pursue both. And when we do, it’s almost always later in our careers and when we’ve got the money thing somewhat figured out.

While my response at that career fair may sound sarcastic, that was definitely not my intent (at least that time). I was able to share that statement with complete confidence because I was working to achieve a very definite purpose and didn’t really care how much work, or how little pay, was involved in the process. Let’s be honest though, we’ll seldom see any two people be motivated by the exact same thing. The majority of folks you and I interact with will not have interest in accepting leadership responsibility. Many of them can, however, be incredible team members! But to attract those great team members, we’ll need to provide them with a distinct reason for joining the teams we lead. That’s why purpose is important, for them as much as for us, so let’s give that some thought…

Purpose Builds Great Teams, and Profitability!

After a lengthy conversation with a friend who produces high end marketing videos, and procrastinating much longer than I should have, I finally gave in and had some snippets cut from a few professionally produced videos of me and Cindy speaking and began posting them as “shorts” on the YouTube channel we’ve had for years but never really pushed traffic to. Most of those were from a keynote we delivered to leaders from about eighty different companies across four states, covering how much they directly impact recruitment and retention in their respective organizations. One of those thirty second segments was of me detailing the importance of purpose, asking if they really thought the best team members would uproot their lives over an extra dollar an hour if the culture they were currently in was outstanding. While it still made a specific point, the internet trolls went to work, bitching and moaning about how evil companies are for not just paying people more. One even commented something about companies paying me forty thousand dollars a week to teach them how to pay their employees less. I have yet to be paid that in any single week, but I can assure you it will never be for advocating paying anyone a dime less than they deserve! Interestingly enough, those trolls helped that one video reach more people than nearly all of our other previous videos on the channel combined!

Truth be told, a strong point Cindy and I drove through the entire keynote that particular short was pulled from was how much long term value there is in paying our best team members extremely well for helping the organization be profitable, and how higher pay can be far more cost effective than the revolving door that comes from skimping on wages and taking advantage of people. But let’s be honest, have you ever known an internet troll to let facts impair their whining?

Here’s where I’ll emphasize the point I opened here with once more: It ain’t JUST about the pay! Purpose does indeed matter. When we’ve taken the initiative to fulfill our leadership responsibility effectively, providing the team members we lead with a great atmosphere AND a purpose they can buy into, earning the fifty-seven percent increase in discretionary effort I’ve referred to several times already - and the twenty percent increase in individual productivity that comes from that - can actually become commonplace! And when that’s the case, the increased profitability that results from this makes increasing wages a no-brainer.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I realize not all organizations will take this approach even when raking in record profits. Therein lies the difference between authentic leadership and managing based solely on authority; the leader knows that it requires the entire team to increase profit where the authoritarian believes it was all because of their amazing control over their minions… And in my experience, those authoritarians are exactly who great team members refuse to stick with long term regardless of how much or how little they’re being paid.

One more thought on those trolls… While I respect anyone who’s working to provide the best they can for their families, I’ve never seen a strong team built with people who are constantly chasing the highest wage the next company will throw at them. In fact, I’ve seen it play out time and time again where the person who accepts a position based on pay alone is also one of the first to have their hand out for more and leaves that organization just as fast as anyone else flashes something shiny in front of them. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen one of those folks be terribly concerned about how the company performs or about the others around them. Although some of the ones I’ve seen do this have had incredible skills, I can say from experience that strong teams are not built around them. And since I’m being candid, I’m willing to bet that the majority of the trolls sitting in their mom’s basement while they make snarky comments from their crafty internet handles aren’t likely very skilled at much else either.

The case I’ll make ten times out of ten is that providing a strong purpose, coupled with fair and equitable wages, will attract the best team members in any industry over time. This isn’t something that happens overnight, but it absolutely does happen when we’re willing to lead well consistently. And when we’ve got the best in the business on our teams, we’re able to do things for them that no one else can afford to!

Great People Are Drawn to a Definite Purpose

Have you ever seen a professional sports team that’s absolutely stacked with talent but rarely, if ever, wins a championship? The older I get, the less I can tolerate the ever-increasing nonsense that’s seemed to have taken over professional sports so I can’t speak in much detail about any specific team (in any sport) over the last decade or so. From a distance though, I’d have to point to any team Lebron James has played for over the last ten years. While I’ve never been much of a basketball fan, just the little bit of exposure I get to ESPN while on the elliptical machine continues to show me that he’s had incredible talent all around him, wherever he’s played, and has lost more championships than he’s won; AND those teams have failed to get to the championship series even more times. 

At one point, I followed professional baseball very closely. Having grown up a Red Sox fan, I remember listening to game four of the 2004 ALCS very late while driving from the airport in Memphis, TN to the hotel I was staying at in Jonesboro, AR. My first surprise was that it was still going since it started before I boarded my flight from Atlanta to Memphis. The next surprise was that the Red Sox won with a 12th inning walk-off home run by David Ortiz. The Red Sox went on to win the next three games against the Yankees then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. I was enamored! But that’s not the point here; that Yankees team had as much talent as I’ve ever seen on a baseball roster, and it did for several years afterward. However, this same organization that won four championships in just five years less than a decade prior (1996-2000) has only made it there twice since, losing in 2003 and winning in 2009, despite continuously having one of the highest payrolls in baseball - every single year - as well as some of the biggest names in the game.

Alex Rodriguez, arguably one of the most talented individuals to ever play baseball, signed the biggest contract in MLB history (at the time) in early 2004 to join the Yankees and was there through his retirement after the 2016 season. While I’ve always admired his ability, I’ve never respected his demeanor, and I can’t help but believe what I've always felt was a “me first” air about him that impacted the overall culture of the teams he played for - in spite of being stacked with talent.

Let’s be honest about all this though, not a single baseball team has ever asked for my opinion. That’s stunning since I was an extremely good player - other than the running, hitting, and catching parts. The reality is that the teams we build in our respective organizations depend on team member chemistry and cohesion just as much as, and likely more than, any we’ll ever watch play a sport on television. That’s where the purpose we’ve been looking at becomes critical.

A-Rod made a ton of money but I’d bet that a lot of the players around him would have preferred winning a few championships. The folks that were chirping at me on social media about how companies owed them more and how they thought I was making a case for paying as little as possible aren’t likely ones who are striving for a championship in any industry - or a definite purpose for that matter. And I’ve just never seen strong teams built when the “you owe more, then I’ll work harder” mindset is in place.

What I have seen over and over and over again has been great people choosing to buy into a definite purpose when all other things are equal. To that end, I’ve seen a significant number of them choose purpose even when everything else isn’t equal! When that purpose is strong in the organization and with the individuals throughout the organization, it’s only a matter of time until best-in-class performance follows. And that nearly always yields the higher pay that far many people believe they deserve without earning it… But this almost always starts because great people want to be part of something that matters - so we’ll pick up there soon!