Stefan and Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach discuss the transformational power of having an Engaged Purpose™. This episode reveals the powerful combination of vision and purpose, why an Engaged Purpose at the core of your organization motivates and aligns team performance with company aspiration, the positive impact an Engaged Purpose has on your relationships both in and outside the workplace, and two simple questions that will help you create a self-multiplying company.



Stefan Wissenbach: Hi there. This is Stefan Wissenbach, Founder of Here I am today with Dan Sullivan in the studio from Strategic Coach. We’re here today to talk about the importance and the power of having an engaged purpose.

Dan Sullivan: Yeah, I’m really happy to be here. I’ll start that again. Yes, I’m really happy to be here, Stefan, because we’re the lead organization in the Engagement Multiplier. We just finished our third survey, and got back stellar results. Our participation rate was way up, and our overall score with many more people participating in the survey was actually up too. I should say this is like we’re at the half-year mark after starting the very first survey. We can tell that there is an enormous jump in the overall mindset of our organization around the whole issue of engagement, and I think it relates directly that for the first time in 26 years, everybody in the organization understands what the purpose of the company is. That’s very appropriate for today’s talk is how important it is for entrepreneurial company to organize itself around a purpose that everybody understands.

Stefan: Absolutely. We were talking about this earlier, and the fact that a lot of business owners create a vision for their business, and how often that vision really seeks to predominantly serve just the owners or sometimes, it’s written for the customers and yet, most of the time, customers don’t care. The people that you really need to be connecting with are the people in the business, the team, the employees. When you write and create a purpose and a vision within your business that connects with your team, that’s when the magic happens. We were talking earlier about the difference between vision and purpose, and I’d be interested in, just for the listeners, you and I just spending a bit of time on why you believe a purpose is much more powerful than a vision.

Dan: The image I would like to give with that are mountaintops and valleys, Stefan, that first of all, it’s the responsibility of the entrepreneur to establish the vision of a company because the owner owns the company. It’s the vehicle that’s actually going to make the vision real in the marketplace. We see far. If you think about being on one mountaintop and seeing other mountaintops in the distance, but the difference the vision and purpose is you can see the mountaintops but what happens when you go down into the valleys because that’s actually where the progress is made. It’s the retention of the vision but it’s translated into the day-to-day activities of everyone in the organization.

I’ll give you an example because our involvement in the Engagement Multiplier has actually allowed us for the first time in 26 years actually to establish what the purpose of Strategic Coach is, and that purpose is expanding entrepreneurial freedom. That’s it. There’s complete agreement after six months of thinking about this, talking about it, and now it’s entered into the day-to-day activity that everything that we have to do on a day-to-day basis with relationship to the entrepreneurs who come to the Strategic Coach is do everything that we possibly can to expand their freedom in every area of their life.

You can just see the engagement that our team members have with that purpose on a day-to-day basis where they didn’t really know. They like us, they like the company, they like the people who came in the door, but they didn’t have a specific purpose about how to do their job the best, their responsibilities, carry out their responsibilities the best when people came in. It makes all the difference in the world.

Stefan: That’s fabulous. I was talking to an entrepreneur yesterday and was saying exactly that, that an engaged purpose is a written statement that clearly communicates to your team what your company does and why, and it details the transformation. That word is important. It details the transformation that you’re trying to create. Provide a structure and framework which inspires your team to align their daily activities with the company’s large aspirations. I’ve said for years, I think human beings are wonderful things, and especially when you provide them with structure and a framework, but freedom within that framework to operate.

That’s what a really well-crafted engaged purpose does. If you think about the engaged purpose of Strategic Coach, it does exactly that. Is it possible for you to give an example of how with that engaged purpose activity or something that’s happened in the business that’s now new that’s being created as a result of having that purpose that’s aligned with that?

Dan: This may seem like a fairly small thing but last week, I just started a new quarter of workshops. During the week, we have a team that’s in the back of the workshops. These are our Strategic Coach team members. Last week, I had four members of the art department, they’re actually the production department, who designed and produced all the materials that are in the Strategic Coach.

I’ll just give you an example of what the Engagement Multiplier has done to our thinking. One of them was a top designer, and this is the first time in 19 years that she’s actually been in one of my workshops. The other one has been there 15 years. This was the first time she’s been in one of my workshops. The other two are basically 10 years. First time that they’ve ever been in one of my workshops. All those years that we’ve been there, they’ve never actually seen me in action. They’ve never seen the quality of entrepreneurs that are coming into my workshops.

It was really funny because afterwards, we always do a debriefing, and one of the designers who comes from Hong Kong, she said, “This is the greatest workshop I’ve ever been in.” It was her first workshop that she’d ever been in but there was delight. I was delighted because I don’t know if I’d ever thought of this that there was no compelling reason for us to really push to have everyone in the workshops.

We have a rule that we have 120 members now, and at least once a year, every one of those 120 has to be in one of my workshops so they can see what is being discussed. They can see the response of the entrepreneurs to the concepts and ideas which in the case of these four individuals, they’re the one who actually created the visuals that these people are working with. They created the tools but they had never actually seen the tools actually being used and being responded to. That, I think, totally ups the engagement of them with the vision and with the purpose of the company.

Stefan: They get to see how you’re expanding entrepreneurial freedom as a practical example.

Dan: Yeah.

Stefan: Yeah, which is fabulous.

Dan: Can I ask you a question? I know you’re right in the final stages of your book about this whole process that you’ve put together. You started off, I can remember a couple of years ago when the idea first came up of this platform that really every entrepreneur in the world, if they’re growing their company, should really have this platform but the first word you used, vision, when did you switch? When did you see the necessity of having another word there besides vision?

Stefan: Candidly, I believe that I, in the early days here, was confusing vision and purpose. In working with entrepreneurs and looking at their businesses, I realized very quickly that vision for people at the frontline, the employees, is just too far away in the future. They don’t really connect with it, especially when the vision is there to not serve them. I was with an entrepreneur a few weeks ago, and I said, “What’s your vision for the business?” and he said, “I want the business to be turning over 20 million pounds.” That’s great for you but that doesn’t really make a difference to the people. It creates a bit more job security but really, it doesn’t really change their world.

It was after working with him, seeing in so many cases how visions were relevant for the entrepreneur but often very disconnected from the teams. When you had organizations that have actually created a purpose that the team could connect with, that’s when that started to give meaning to their daily activities. It’s one of those things that is obvious with the benefit of hindsight, and you’re saying, “It was right under my nose all the time and now, I see it.” One of the things that I write about in the book is the importance of the owner entrepreneur to absolutely own creating the purpose and the vision because you do need some forward direction but owns creating the purpose and owns connecting it to the leaders. Really, really important.

Those are really the two primary responsibilities of an owner, in my view, is to have the vision and the purpose and own that to be able to see the mountaintops that you referred to but to help create the purpose and to connect the leaders with that. One of the ways that you connect the leaders is that you do have them participate in helping to craft it. I know that in Strategic Coach, you’ve done that. I’d like to come back to that in just a moment.

Then, if we talk about this cascading effect, the owner connects the purpose with the leaders; and the leaders, their responsibility is to connect their team members with the purpose and the vision. For them to be able to show their individual team members how their individual role fits into the overall achievement of the company’s purpose which gives it meaning. One of the things that’s very important for people is to have meaning and understanding how their role fits in.

It’s something that some organizations do very well. A lot do very badly. Even more don’t even do at all. One of the things I’m hoping from the book that’s coming out shortly in the work within the Engagement Multipliers is that we can encourage more business owners to invest some time in creating a purpose that will connect their team.

Dan: Yeah. It’s really interesting, Stefan, because I go back to the 1974. That’s when I started coaching entrepreneurs. I’ve had this buildup over the years of understanding the ones, the entrepreneurs, who really do it well. For me, that means that they create a great team around them. It’s not just that you got a big ambition as an entrepreneur, it’s not just that you personally are really, really skilled, you have individual skill, but it’s really that you have this ability to build a great teamwork inside the organization and outside the organization.

There’s one quality now after 40 years that I really think that team members, when you look at the owner of an organization, and the word is transparency. What I mean is that what the entrepreneurs says is the purpose. Do they actually role model this? Is there behavior actually on display every day that not only do they say this, not only do they want us to believe us, but this is actually how they perform themselves on a daily basis.

The platform that you’ve created, the Engagement Multiplier, is … I use the word here, lethal, because there is no hiding. I think anybody who is interested in this has to understand that what I’ve discovered over the last six months is that I’m being watched. The reason is because every 90 days, my team votes, the engagement level of the organizations. One of the categories that they’re voting on is me, along with Babs who together, we own the company, and I realized suddenly that every time I’m in contact, every time I’m having a conversation, every time I’m involved in a work situation with one of my team leaders and team members is that that’s either a thumbs up or a thumbs down on the engagement scorecard.

What it’s done is it’s really cleaned up my act as an entrepreneur. When I come in every day, I realize probably your greatest contribution that you’re going to make today is just how you are when you’re actually meeting and talking with the members of your team and to the degree that they really, really sense that I’m really serious and I’m really personally committed to the purpose of the company, that’s the best thing that I can possibly do.

Stefan: Absolutely. It’s funny because just as we were walking into the studio today, I was speaking to Jane back in the UK, and she said, “You’re doing a podcast with Dan.” She said, “Remember you said last time we spoke the other day that you should spend some time on the subject, you can’t fake it to make it.” because I was writing that chapter in the book on owners, and this came up as a point that owners in the engagement world, you can’t fake it to make it. You might be able to pull it off for a little while, but eventually, you’re going to get found out which is why while it takes bravery to be in business and it takes bravery and courage to be an entrepreneur, but it also takes bravery to open yourself up to being scored every 90 days and to just look at the truth, look at where the business is every 90 days, and then take action.

Dan: One of the things that I’ve noticed in Strategic Coach, we have two levels of the program. The one level is what we call the core program, and that’s to create a self- managing company. In other words, Babs and I are away quite a bit of the time during the year. For 25 years every year, we’ve taken 22 weeks off which means we’re essentially on board at the company 30 weeks out of the year. The question is during the 22 weeks you’re not there, does the company manage itself? That’s what we role model for our entrepreneurs but it’s for the entrepreneurs themselves to actually create a self-managing company.

The big issue, you can have a self-managing company but all that means is that it’s intact when you get back. In other words, however you left it, it’s in that same condition when you got back. The higher level that we do in Coach is once you’ve established a self-managing company, you want to jump to the self-multiplying company. That means that while you’re away, things grew. Sometimes, things grew in an unpredictable way which means that there was actually innovation.

You’re thinking about this as you’re writing the book is what does it take actually for people to grow something while the owner is away that they in fact don’t own but they’re still growing it to a certain extent from a legal standpoint or financial standpoint? The vast majority of people don’t own it yet. They may own it in the future but they don’t own it yet. What motivates a person to actually put in extra effort and extra ingenuity, and innovation while the owner is away, and they have the confidence that that’s okay?

Stefan: That’s a great question. It comes back to the conversation that we’ve had a while ago about how money is so far down the list of things that motivates someone in a job. One of the primary motivators is that people enjoy the work they do. The second one is that their job fits well with other areas of their life, that they feel connected to the organization. Then, you get down to pay and benefits. Now, they’re further down the list.

My experience is that when you create an organization that’s doing something great and most business are, and you have an engaged purpose the team are really connected with. They understand their roles, they understand how their contribution fits into that, and the business has the departments and divisions have objectives as to where they’re trying to get to. You once again get back to this point that you’re providing these individuals with a structure and framework but you’re providing them with the freedom to operate within that. Most people, engage them for years, they do have a sense of pride and they have a sense of self-worth. If you give them the freedom or you provide them with the freedom to go and do things, then they normally embrace that. Not everyone will.

It’s interesting because a practical example I can give you is this, and it’s still the thing that I enjoy the most about looking at clients that are on the Engagement Multiplier Program is we have a couple of questions at the end of the simple survey. They do the scores. Then, at the end, it says, “What two actions could you take personally that are not dependent on leadership that would improve engagement?” Then it says, “What one action could leadership take?” It’s a two-for-one deal which is I must deliver it because a self-multiplying company is one where the team members are taking proactive taking to innovation and grow.

What happens is we get all these wonderful insights and ideas that people are sharing of the two actions they could personally take that aren’t dependent on leadership, and our advice to every single client on the Engagement Multiplier Program is if it doesn’t require leadership involvement, it probably means it’s not going to cause much money and it’s not going to take much time. Let them have at it. Just let them go and do. In fact, publicly state to your team that those of them that have come up with actions on the program that they volunteered confidentially and anonymously, that they would like the things and actions that they could take, give them permission to go and do them.

The platform actually, each individual team member on the platform has their own private dashboard and the two insights that they have suggested are privately captured and shown for them on their own private dashboards. Each of the team members on the programs gets to see for the next 90 days the two actions that they’ve said that they could take that don’t depend on leadership. We encourage leadership and owners to embrace this, allow these people to go and implement their ideas. They’re responsible enough in their mind that they know the boundaries they need to operate within. If it does require a lot of money or it’s going to take a lot of time, people will only not be stupid, they will ask if it’s okay.

Embrace it, and then celebrate the success. When you start doing that, when you start singling out success, and some of your best ideas will be your simplest ideas and they’ll come from the most unexpected parts of the organization. If you then start singling out and celebrating people that have achieved great things, that starts to create a culture in the organization of self-multiplying behavior and actions because people are feeling the freedom to make suggestions implement and they’re getting to see the benefits.

I think very quickly what happens is that an engaged organization, I know walking around Coach is a fabulous example of an engaged organization, when you talk to the people in the business, there’s a sense of pride and there’s a sense of belonging, and a sense of enjoyment of being in a company that is multiplying. That’s where I think most people want to go to work. They want to go and work in a company that they’re self-multiplying and be able to contribute to that because it creates a win-win for everyone. It makes the organization a better place to be.

Dan: Yeah. It’s an amazing thing, the importance of work has taken on as we’ve moved in to the 21st Century. I saw a very interesting study about stress levels, and they took a thousand individuals, and they test for cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone. If you have high cortisol, it means that you have a high level of stress. They did a thousand individuals who worked at different levels in organizations. This could have been government workers, it could have been corporate workers, or it could have been entrepreneurial companies that they were working for. They found for the most part, individual stress levels were much higher at home than they were at work.

This whole image that work is actually very, very stressful and then, people want to go home, they found it’s just the opposite and they dug deeper into why this might be. What they found was that they had a much more clearly defined and appreciated role at work than they did at home. They got much more respect for their role and for their contribution but the other thing is that the structures and the processes that governed their activities in the company or in the organization that they were, were much more defined and the rewards were much more clearly defined in work than they were at home.

Now, this is straight across the board. They weren’t talking about whether these were actually engaged organizations or not. They were just talking about just generally. The other thing is that it’s a big lack of time when you think about it. Do you know what I mean? Someone from age, let’s say age 20 to age 70, the major portion of their conscious daily time during that period is going to actually be spent in their working environment, not in their personal environment. This is the reality period. You’re going to be putting in the time.

What it seems to me that you’re doing, Stefan, you and your team, you’re doing is you’re saying, “Look, this is a reality that exist in the world but we can multiply this reality so that from an emotional psychological standpoint, you’re getting two to three times the multiplier of engagement in the part of individuals and something that’s going to be a reality. Whether it’s good or bad anyway, it’s going to be a reality. The big thing is you can multiply that. This is why I think that you’ve taken something that exists anyway and you’ve just found a way to multiply it at an amazingly low cost when you look at it and in a very, very short period of time.

Of course, those are the two conditions for profitability and productivity is a big hit in terms of revenues coming in, turnover coming in, and also their profitability. This is an amazing thing that you’ve done. It’s very simple. Just a single concept of engagement makes it very simple.

Stefan: I agree. This self-multiplying point is a big one for me because when you connect owners, leaders, and employees around an engaged purpose, you then create this energy that then literally explodes outwards. The engaged organization then impacts many other people. It’s interesting because a lot of engagement programs tend to focus on initially diving straight to engaged customers or engaged employees, and they miss the point that actually you have to start with purpose. You have to then have ownership engaged and then leadership engaged. Only then can you start to think about engaging your employees.

I don’t even worry about engaging customers because if you get those core elements right, then the engaged employees, the front line where engagement tends to meet the outside world, their interaction with customers will be engaged because they’re engaged employees. It’s not just customers and this is why in my book and in the diagram that I draw for this, we don’t specifically just reference customers because it’s every one the organization comes into contact with.

Back to your earlier point about stress levels and the comparison between people at work and at home, one of the great things about an engaged organization, in my view as somebody that has a family, is that if you are engaged at work and you are happy at work, then that translates into what your life is when you get home. You don’t walk through the door in a bad mood, kick the dog, be grumpy. You’re actually much more pleasant to be around at home. It’s not just home life. It’s the suppliers you deal with. It’s the PR companies. It’s the media.

I was talking to someone last week that runs an engaged organization in the dentistry sector. His PR agent loves dealing with him because it’s an engaged organization. I was traveling back from the meeting after talking to my assistant and said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind betting that when the PR agents got to decide whether she works on that company and another company, the engaged organization probably gets the edge because it’s more enjoyable.” There’s so many benefits to having that engagement and it being this self-multiplying resource that sits outside of the business which is your customers, your suppliers, and the way that then people talk about your company. You get more referrals, you get more positive PR because of that self-multiplying resource.

Dan: Just going back to the start off of this podcast, Stefan, is that what I hear you saying is you would never actually have to state to your customers what the purpose of your organization is if you’re doing all the other things right before that. It’s just a little something that always irks me if I walk into a hotel or I walk into a restaurant, and they have our commitment to you written out on a card, and I said, “Gee.” When I read it, I often get the feeling that it’s a tier need telling everybody about their democratic principles that I said, “Something must be really, really going wrong with this organization that they have to make such attempt to get me to believe something I’m reading and ignoring the reality that I’m actually experiencing.”

My feeling is that if you’re taking care of vision and purpose, the owners are committed to it, the team leaders are totally plugged into it and communicating it to all the team members. The team members themselves are doing it. The marketplace will know, the customers will know, the community that this company is in will know, that the families of all the team members, they will know that this is reality. You won’t have to print up a card and send it out to everybody to get them to believe something that you hope people take as the reality but it is the reality.

Stefan: It’s so true. Actions speak louder than words. Thank you, Dan. That was a fabulous discussion and we could probably go on for a lot, lot longer but if anyone, any of the listeners, would like to understand a bit more about how you can create an engaged purpose, visit, and there’s the facility there for you to submit an inquiry and we have a guide that we can send you that sets out the steps for how you can actually create your own engaged purpose. I hope that you do create an engaged purpose, or refine your own engaged purpose, and then have fun connecting your leaders and your employees to that. Then, watching the magic happen and watching the self-multiplying companies start to evolve.