The One Reason You Exist

I was on the phone with my web hosting company because I was having trouble setting up new e-mail service for my business. After weeks of working out the kinks, I was not able to sign on to my new service. The tech support guy confirmed that I wasn’t able to open my e-mail because I did not buy a special secure package. I said that I was never told about having to pay more just to use the service I already paid for, he said, “You know what I would do? I would cancel this other package you bought and install the secure package. You will save more money in the end.” By the time we were done, I was so happy about his service I had forgotten that previous reps at the company had sold me unnecessary packages. It got me to wondering about how that rep’s manager was able to instill in him the urge to go beyond the basics of his job and serve the needs of the customer.

This is a trend among businesses I work with lately. Leaders can’t seem to get employees to do more than just the bare minimum. The first scapegoat is employee motivation, but motivation is a delicate balance of internal and external factors. And a lack of motivation isn’t solved by an occasional pep talk. Motivation is not a goal; it is an outcome. An outcome of skills combined with empathy; the ability to feel what another person is feeling. When a customer is frustrated, simply solving their problem isn’t enough. Empathy empowers an employee to alleviate the stress and frustration the customer feels.

To foster empathy, you must first create a picture of why everyone’s work is important, but also important for the right reasons. If people understand how their work affects the big picture, they will always go above and beyond. I call this The One Reason You Exist.

The one reason you exist is a simple phrase that describes the one goal your organization strives to achieve with every interaction, with every customer. The one reason your company exists is not the mission statement, it is a simple phrase that every employee could repeat. The One Reason You Exist goes beyond tasks and functions; it speaks to what you bring to the world. It goes beyond what you do and examines what you do for others. During a workshop for a group of government employees, I asked each department to tell me why they existed. A group from Child Services started rattling off their mission statement; filled with “to provide” and “ensure” statements. I told them that, if they wouldn’t use the statement over coffee with friends, they couldn’t use it as the one reason they existed. I left the group to discuss and they came back with a great reason to exist; Feed the babies.

The reason having this clear, concise statement is important is that every decision a staff member makes must be measured against that goal. If a staff meeting gets bogged down over disagreements, one can simply ask, “Does your idea help us feed the babies?” If it doesn’t, out it goes. Many companies claim to give “superior customer service,” including the one that sold me e-mail packages I didn’t need. The trouble is, “superior” isn’t something you can feel; so, employees go through the motions and follow procedures. They figure that, if they didn’t piss anyone off that day, they did their job. That behavior isn’t superior.

Another company I worked with replaced “superior customer service” with the one reason they existed, We bring the wow. That statement might sound too slogan-y or cutesy to you, but it brings clarity to what is expected of everyone at the company. You have done your job when the customer says, “Wow!” Employees at that company are motivated to go beyond their job description. The goal of bringing the wow encourages them to empathize with the person they are serving. In fact, staff members will now hang up the phone and announce to the room, “I just brought the wow!”

Set aside your fancy mission statement and think about the one reason your company exists. Provide motivation for your employees that comes from within.

Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management.  He can be reached at www.stevierays.org or stevie@stevierays.org.

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