“Jodi was right about the beauty of this little cove. It’s weird that I’ve never really noticed it before, and I consider myself a mindful and aware guy.”, Thatcher said silently to himself. He stood, mesmerized by the repetition of the waves, each one different yet the same, and reflected on the morning’s discussion. He was pleased with how things were going, but he also knew the hard and deep work was just about to begin. He felt Jodi and Eric were already on board. Gail seemed a bit more skeptical, but open to the process nonetheless. Don had been surprising. Thatcher had expected him to be resistant, but other than a few snarky comments, he’d actually been participative and had offered some valuable input. “Let’s head back to the house, roll-up our sleeves and get to work.”, Thatcher shouted in order to be heard over the crashing waves.
Once everyone was settled in, Thatcher began. “Before we start sharing our answers to the questions we’ve been contemplating, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the importance of having a defined purpose. Daniel Pink in his book “Drive”, talks about how having a sense of purpose is one of the key elements of intrinsic motivation. This is our ‘Why’. There is a really cool TED Talk that Simon Sinek does on the importance of starting with ‘Why’. I’ll email you all a link, in case you want to watch it. I am so focused on this because purpose is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s what aligns us, pushes us, encourages us. It’s our call to action. Without a true organizational purpose, the human default is to serve ‘self’. It is purpose that creates the ability to serve something greater, and if we are going to succeed, we need every member of our team feeling a sense of purpose that is beyond self.”
The room was quiet and Thatcher wasn’t sure his speech hit home. “I guess we’ll just have to find out.”, he thought. “Let’s talk about those questions we’d set off to think through. What is it about what we do that will get us and every member of our team out of bed in the morning, excited to come to work? What is it that we do that will make our customers want to buy from us and be evangelists for our product? What is it that we do that will make our families proud that we work here and our community thankful that we are based here? Does anyone want to take a stab at answering?”, Thatcher asked. Don spoke first. “Let’s be honest, this is a boring business. I don’t think anybody gets up super excited about it. For most, it’s a good job, stable, consistent, you know, dependable. You can kind of plan a life around it.” “I don’t want to come off sounding super critical, or leave you believing that I am some silly dreamer.”, Thatcher said, with concern in his voice. “But, what you just said, it’s frankly just not good enough. What you described is a purpose of ‘self’. We need a purpose of ‘us’. Anyone have any other thoughts?” Thatcher asked. Although Don was taken aback, he wasn’t mad. “I get what you’re after.”, Don responded. “But, this is a blocking and tackling business. We make products, load it on trucks and ship it to stores. I don’t think you can romanticize some invented sense of serving a higher purpose. Shit, we feed people, that’s it, it’s that simple.”
“Bingo”, Thatcher exclaimed as he slapped his hand down hard on the side table. “That’s exactly what we do, we feed people!”, he said emphatically. The rest of the group looked at him like they would a crazy uncle who blurts out something that makes absolutely no sense. Thatcher noticed their reaction and started laughing. “I can see that you are looking at me like I’m a taco shy of a combination plate.” Gail nodded and offered a smile. “Let me ask you a question.”, Thatcher continued. “Who consumes our products?” “Kids, moms, families”, Eric offered. “Okay, let me ask another. What does our product mean to kids, moms and families?” This time, Jodi jumped in. “It means food, comfort and maybe even safety.” Thatcher nodded his head vigorously. “Yes, exactly, if we think about it, we all have some visceral memory tied to milk. I mean, I remember as a little boy trying to pour it into my cereal. That gallon was so damn heavy and the counter so high, that I poured most of it onto the counter. My dad was standing there and I thought for sure he was going to get mad at me for spilling, but instead he handed me a towel, poured the milk into my bowl, and told me that I’d be tall and strong enough soon.”
Eric looked over at Gail and saw that there were tears in her eyes. He asked if everything was okay. “Sorry, I feel so stupid.”, She said shyly. “I started to think, as Thatcher was telling his story, that before I started working here, I was a young single mom without a job. I would get my WIC vouchers, and go to the store and buy milk, and other staples. As long as there was milk in the refrigerator, I knew things were going to be okay. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.” The room stayed quiet for a few minutes. Thatcher spoke, this time softly. “I think what we do is special. We feed people, our products are trusted. They’re on our table for Thanksgiving, in our comfort food, poured into the morning cup of joe that helps us face the day, and in that warm glass that soothes us on a sleepless night.”
“I don’t mean to sound heartless, but this all sounds pretty fluffy. I just don’t see us getting the buy-in from those who we work with.”, Jodi offered. “Totally on board with that,” Thatcher responded, “and that is what we have to explore here today. Somewhere north of the blocking and tackling, the transactional business that Don described and the fluffy romanticized one that I just described, lies a call to action. We need a sense of purpose that we can rally around. Our job is to find it and communicate it in a way that builds alignment.”