ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - April 2002


Issue Highlight — Business as Usual
- Peter Block has been thinking about all the talk about getting back to business as usual and wonders whether business as unusual might not be better for the nation.

Bringing Corporate Philosophy Alive
If the philosophy doesn’t fit, can the organization atrophy? Here are some ways to avoid a corporate philosophic misfit.

If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit?

Imagine this: a company has a promising and fashionable philosophy about customer service. What are the implications of it in the workplace? Nobody knows. Like footwear that doesn’t fit, no one can try them out. Many companies invest a lot of time and resources to develop corporate philosophies (corporate mission, vision, and value statements), but employees don’t buy into them because they just don’t fit the actual job. In fact, some employees find these corporate philosophies loose and irritating. Why?

Often mission, vision, and value statements are ambiguous. Imagine you are a new employee and the organization you work for tells you to believe in certain philosophies (like your mother made you wear certain shoes). Yet you look around and you are not sure even the manager believes in or understands them. It’s not clear how these polished philosophies relate to your job, yet you know they are important. This ambiguity can cause a lot of stress. You want to get your shoe in the door, yet there is this massive void in your soul because you feel uneasy that your organization constantly tells you what to believe.

Pitfalls to Philosophizing

How much damage can corporate philosophies do? Here are some of the drawbacks:

  • Ambiguous philosophies are hard to apply.
  • They are often created by a small group of employees and enforced on others.
  • Many employees resent being told what to believe.
  • Philosophy is theory. Business is a day-to-day hands-on activity.
  • Employees make things happen and need to be an integral part of the philosophy.

In many cases it’s not so much the corporate philosophy that is the problem, it’s how we apply it. Because employees are at the forefront of business activity, they need to understand a philosophy in order to apply it in different situations. If employees aren’t engaged and included in the process, an ambiguous statement turns them off from their work. We apply a philosophy by engaging employees in it.

How to Engage Employees in Corporate Philosophy

Most successful organizations have mission statements; most individuals do not. Like organizations, employees need a purpose for their work, a guiding mission that provides meaning to daily activities. Employees must come before philosophy. So, before engaging employees in a corporate philosophy, first help them uncover their own sense of purpose in their work.

Corporate Culture Defines Expectations That Affect Performance

This is why we need to help employees to identify and strengthen their own sense of purpose before selling corporate expectations to them. Employees must define themselves outside of the expectations of others. They must define what is purposeful about the work, what they enjoy, and what success looks like to them to enhance their sense of individual purpose. Employees with a strong sense of purpose are more accountable, self-motivated, and have more initiative.

Strategy—here are some tools to help encourage individual purpose in others:

  • Get employees thinking about why they are in the job in the first place (besides to pay the rent).
  • The core of individual purpose comes from really getting a hold of the question, “What do you care about in your work?”
  • The good manager will create conversations about things that matter to employees, at the same time creating for them a sense of identity. When employees have their own sense of purpose they have defined a purpose for themselves that not even a change in management, a change in the job, or other employees’ negative opinions can take away.
  • The mission test: Ask personnel at every level what the company mission is and how it affects their job. If you don’t get an accurate or consistent response, the mission may need rewording.
  • Tie everyday tasks and roles to the bigger picture like contribution to customers, the company, and the overall community.

From Individual Needs to Collective Purpose

As employees are asked what they care about in their jobs the answers move away from individual concerns toward helping others in building collective purpose. Employees must take care of individual needs before they can spare enough energy to contribute to others. Through coaching and follow-up, managers can help employees care for their own needs so they can free up their energy for the group good. As Maslow’s hierarchy suggests, employees need to satisfy lower-order needs like food and shelter (paycheck) and social needs (interaction) before higher order needs like purposeful work will prevail. As Maslow suggests, employees are most motivated by their strongest needs, so find out what those needs are and motivate employees accordingly.

Consistently use the strategies above and turn your polished corporate philosophies into a fit for the job. Remember, employees are the resource that makes things happen, thus it is essential to get their buy in.

JODY URQUHART is the author of All Work & No Say Takes the PASSION Away, Create a Passionate & Committed Workplace. To order a copy or to discuss having her speak at your next meeting, please send an e-mail to .

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April 2002 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
We Said Teams Are Awesome— in Las Vegas, They Proved It!
Heroes Wear Scrubs Too
Upcoming AQP Courses at a Glance...
Bringing Corporate Philosophy Alive
An Open Invitation to a New Conversation
What Do You Mean by Participation?
Tools for Teams: The TetraMap®
Something Shifted

What’s Up?

Peter Block Column

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