Whenever we engage with a business, either as workers or as customers, we don’t just want to make transactions. We want to support businesses that stand for a worthwhile cause – those that allow us to contribute to a happier, fairer, more inspiring world. When we look around a workspace (which might be an office, retail store, public facility, etc.) we immediately get an impression of whether we’re in the right place: environments that send messages we don’t identify with can erode our trust and excitement, while [Tweet:] workplaces that reflect what’s important to us ignite our passion.
Workspaces that are designed to build rapport with their members and market are better at attracting the kind of people that will advance the business, and motivating them to give to their best.
Breaking the mould
‘Doing good can help improve your prospects, your profits and your business; and it can change the world.’ – says Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, in his book Screw Business as Usual.
Branson is known for an uninhibited and rebellious nature that some find controversial. But what he stands for is magnetic: revolutionising how business is done by shifting the focus from short-term financial goals towards repairing the damage to the environment, elevating humanity and enriching the life of everyone affected by the business. He believes – and his enterprises testify – that pursuing these goals will naturally improve the profitability of a business, and that the best way to get there is by pushing boundaries, focusing on the best in people and having fun.
Virgin constantly raises the bar of customer experience. Their facilities – from airport terminals to gyms, from retail outlets to offices – are all shining examples of what Virgin stands for. They are welcoming, friendly, innovative spaces that stand out from the crowd, designed to operate efficiently and to invite people to do business ‘the Virgin way’. (Some of the messages you can read on the walls in Virgin’s offices include: ‘I can see you workin’ good’, ‘Life’s too short for boring’, and ‘Your journey into space starts here’.)
Virgin is a business with a clear purpose which you can see and feel in their facilities.
Meaningful work boosts performance
But what exactly is the purpose of a business? Purpose is the impact it aims to create beyond making profit, the way it wants to enhance people’s lives. This is the primary reason why you and your colleagues started or got involved in the business in the first place, and a big part of why you want to go to work each day. This is the answer to the questions: What’s the ultimate goal you’re all striving towards? How do you make a difference? What are you and your teams most passionate about?
Purpose is a key part of your business and workplace strategy. Don’t move on before you find answers that touch something deep inside you and your team members. Once you’ve nailed it, you’ll be ready to create a space that sends the right messages to everyone who walks in.
Communicating your business purpose clearly and consistently – including how your workplace looks and feels – will certainly strike a chord with those whose personal mission or calling aligns with your organisation’s objectives. When we work with meaning and a strong sense of purpose, we are more driven to live up to our potential and thus perform better. We work with passion and pride, and are willing to go the extra mile. We are still affected by challenges, as everyone is, but are better equipped to deal with them.
We don’t need to be superheroes to qualify for the badge of pursuing a mission or calling. When our team works towards an inspiring goal, and we understand how our contribution moves things forward, even a simple job can be fulfilling. (This is well illustrated by the popular urban legend: ‘President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”)
Let’s have some scary goals!
Love, fear and high performance was a keynote speech I attended given by Michael Rennie, Managing Partner of McKinsey & Company. Rennie talked about how he had been trying to understand the drivers of human performance throughout his career. The answer he found is very simple and consistent across cultures: there needs to be a big, scary, almost impossible, meaningful goal, as well as a supportive, trusting, caring team environment. [Tweet:] If the goal is not exciting enough it just doesn’t bring out the best in the team.
He also asked the audience, ‘If you think back on your career, think of a time that you describe as a peak performance experience, what was there more of or less of? What was different about it?’ Interestingly, the answers coming back from the room matched his experience, as well as with the findings of 10 years’ and $30m worth of research.
When these two things – ‘love’ and ‘fear’ – line up, the performance increase is substantial. A lot of research shows that productivity of labour in factories nearly doubles, and in knowledge-based jobs it increases by 5 to 8 times!
The role of the workplace
[Tweet:] A well-designed workspace helps people develop a stronger sense of purpose at work. The best workplaces embody what their users stand for and reflect their enthusiasm. When we walk into a workplace like this, we’re immediately reminded of why we are there, and the difference our work makes. Furthermore, these spaces strengthen our belief that we can in fact hit those ‘scary big’ goals, and help us develop a sense of camaraderie by reinforcing that we are all on the same journey. Beyond inspiring us to perform better, these spaces attract new talent, clients and business partners who want to be part of the same vision.
Design suggestions to create an inspiring workspace
- Express your business vision and mission throughout the space. Decorate your walls with images, graphics and statements that showcase your enthusiasm and illustrate how your organisation makes this world a better place. These might be, for example, simple words (perhaps presented as wall art), photos of those who benefit from your contribution, and display boards of completed as well as future projects, along with inspiring examples to follow.
- Integrate your products or services into the fitout (if your niche allows), or create opportunities for visitors to get a taster of what you do when they come in. (For example, The office of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association in Maryland, US, has created a car-themed office with a 1955 Nash Metropolitan automobile serving as the reception desk, and with artworks built from car parts. The whole office has a vintage automotive feel.)
- Create opportunities for your people to share their passion. You might allocate rooms or wall surfaces where everyone is welcome to display their own artefacts and put up messages. (I have worked in offices where the walls were covered by photographs and inspiring pieces of art made by those who worked there.)
- Create a mini version of your ideal world in your workplace. What’s the ultimate purpose of your business? To create memorable experiences? To make life safe, pain-free and happy? To bring out the best in people and help them live their dreams? To establish better harmony between people and the Earth? Whatever it may be, make your workspace offer a taster of your ideal world.