November 21, 2017

How Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Explains Culture, Purpose & Employee Engagement

I have several favorite chocolate bars. Crunchie is one. Toffee and chocolate. What a combination. So too is a Reese Cup. Peanut butter and chocolate? Yes please. And don’t get me started about a caramel-filled Dairy Milk bar from England.

Reese Peanut Butter Cup

As your mouth waters and the endorphins kick into high gear, let’s think about the magic combination that makes up a high performing organization.

When an organization operates with an open culture while demonstrating a higher purpose as it carries out its mission, the sweetness that results is an engaged employee base that in turn delights customers. In the case of my chocolate bar metaphor, when the organization successfully mixes together culture and purpose, the result should be an indelible positive experience for both the employee and the customer.

I have found, however, that the concepts of culture, purpose and engagement can become confusing. Sometimes employees (and even senior leaders) think the three terms mean the same thing.

They don’t.

In fact it’s a bit like our chocolate metaphor. Take the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup example. Chocolate on its own can be referred to as culture. Peanut butter can be thought of as purpose. When we put both the chocolate and the peanut butter together, we get engagement. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is the resulting effect of successfully combining chocolate and peanut butter. It is the engaged employee. In organizations, we must think this way if we want to delight the customer. We have to understand both culture and purpose are critical to an engaged employee population.

The issue boils down to definitions.

Culture is how an organization operates.

Every organization ought to be developing a systemic leadership philosophy that defines how it functions with one another, external suppliers/partners as well as its customers. It’s the operating ethos.

I’m not referring to values, mission statements or strategic imperatives. These are important, but none of them relate to the how.

A leadership philosophy is made up of behaviors and expectations that inform an employee of their interaction responsibilities. If there is no leadership philosophy, there is no way for an employee to know how they are expected to behave.

The leadership philosophy cannot be something found on the walls of board rooms or on the company intranet, either. These behaviors must be inculcated across the organization, starting with leaders of people.

Culture is our chocolate.

Purpose is what an organization stands for.

The purpose of an organization ought to be to “provide service to benefit all intended stakeholders.” Stakeholders include employees, customers, partners, community members and those seeking a fair, financial return.

Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that human beings were driven by purpose. A person’s ideals manifest when they are pursuing and then attaining a life of purpose, ultimately the end state of human flourishing. Organizations are made up of people. Why? Almost everyone needs a paycheck in order to survive.

If an organization is full of more people who are purpose-driven, that’s fantastic. But if the organization itself is driven by profit, power or bureaucracy, there is not much hope for employees to carry over their purpose-driven selves into the workplace. If the organization only stands for profit, power or bureaucracy there is a very good chance employees fall into the job mindset, working solely for the paycheck and likely (or eventually) becoming disaffected.

Management expert Peter Drucker once said of the link between life and work: “To make a living is no longer enough. Work also has to make a life.” It is this purpose at work that people yearn for. Charles Handy, another sage on the topic of management, once wrote, “Let us be clear, profits — and good profits — are always essential, and not just in business. But the myth dies hard, the myth that profit is the purpose.” In  my opinion, “the purpose” is what the organization stands for. And it ought to stand for something bigger than profit, power and bureaucracy.

Purpose is our peanut butter.

Engagement is how employees feel about their culture and purpose.

Which leads us to the resulting effect of combining our chocolate and peanut butter.

An engaged employee will only happen when the culture is open, transparent, communicative, collaborative and trustworthy. These are just some of the behaviors that must become part of the leadership philosophy that defines how an organization operates.

An engaged employee will only materialize when the purpose of the organization is about more than profit, power and bureaucracy.

When put together we have ourselves an outcome. Engagement of employees occurs as a result of how they feel about the organization’s culture and purpose. Engagement is a feeling. Engagement tastes good, if you will.

It is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup that organizations ought to be seeking.

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