3 Lessons From One Of America's Great Culture Builders

I’ve spent the past four years studying the greatest sports organizations in America—from the San Antonio Spurs to the Kansas City Royals—in a search for the shared characteristics of great teams. One of my business mentors on this subject is Bill George, longtime CEO of Medtronic—the world’s largest medical technology company—who currently leads an executive education program at Harvard Business School.

After building an extraordinary culture at Medtronic, George published his findings on the habits of Great business leadership in the 2007 book “True North,” which detailed how value-centered companies always outperform profit-centered organizations. Without question, it is one of the greatest reads on this subject.

Last month, George released an updated version of his book Discover Your True North, that includes dozens of new interviews with some of the business world’s true authentic leaders about the importance of purpose in corporate team-building. I had a chance to speak with George about how this underutilized value is driving companies to be more successful today.

His lessons:

1. A Sense Of Purpose Can Attract—and Retain—Valuable Talent…Especially As Our Workforce Gets Younger!

According to the Pew Research Center, more than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials—adults age 18 to 34 in 2015—and unquestionably the largest demographic in the American workforce. These young employees value more than a hefty paycheck and, as George said to me, desire, “a sense of meaning and purpose” in their work.

“People want to work for more than just a job or money, and that is even more true at the lower pay scales than it is with the upper,” George said. “ Leaders have to realize that it’s not just about money, but it’s also about inspiring the people that are doing the work.  This is true for the service industry and many other industries as well. It is all about how you treat customers and the relationships that are formed.”

The young people working for my company reflect this trend; Millennials are team-oriented, love solving problems, and are attracted to strong company values.  If a team desires to be Great, then it is critically important to provide a strong sense of purpose that attracts, and keeps, employees.

2. Great Teams Communicate Culture And Values.

“It’s very important that leaders consistently share the values of the organization to their ranks,” George said. “This is especially true when communicating with front-line employees down the pyramid of an organization, who are more in touch with customers than the CEO or executive team.”

This lesson is so important, yet often disregarded; truthfully, many companies do not know how – or when – to articulate their purpose to employees because it is hasn’t been well defined by leadership. Important lesson, George said: Commit boldly in writing who you’re in service of and why it matters, then share, share, share.

Many organizations have a mission statement that has values attached to it, but have very little meaning to the people,” George said. “If a company is not living their values and mission then there is no point in having one. And CEO’s have a responsibility to be go out and talk with their people. Leaders need to be abiding by such values if they want others to adopt them.”

3. Engagement and Transparency Matter

If a leader attracts the right talent to their organization and empowers them with purpose, then the next step, according to George, is keeping them engaged.

“CEO’s need to spend their time changing the culture and ensuring employee engagement,” he said. “Unfortunately, many companies look for short-term profits instead of developing long-term strategies for company growth…which ultimately brings down engagement scores.”

George says that employee engagement should not be a footnote for companies, and that leaders should invest in enhancing culture and becoming more transparent.  “Special organizational cultures have high engagement scores and profitability because they attach a purpose to their work, and are more open,” George said. “The leaders I profiled in my book are much more transparent than corporate leadership of the past. We’ve moved from an era of self-interest to an era where leaders recognize their role is to serve others and a greater cause.”

George and his leadership tips are applicable to any team desiring to be great. As leaders, we should all consider the value of purpose-driven work and employee engagement. Additionally, frequent communication of our organization’s values will not only motivate employees, but create the foundation of a very profitable future.

“Leaders and employees should both know that you can have a very fulfilling life and a successful career by being true to what you believe,” George said. “You don’t have to perpetuate or go along with the status quo. Be bold, daring and different.”


This article was orginally published on Forbes.com