“Autonomy, mastery and purpose is more important than carrots and sticks.” 

– Daniel Pink

Often it’s the large corporations – with long histories and entrenched traditional approaches – that struggle to truly engage their workforces. Size seems to prevent agility in these corporations; and while their leaders intuitively know that their old methods may not be working, change is slow.

One of the reasons that around 70% of organisations fail to deliver upon strategy is that decision making is focused on risk rather than opportunity.

Decision makers often make decisions through a lens of short-term personal financial rewards.

Acclaimed author and lecturer, and one of the world’s preeminent business thinkers, Daniel Pink’s research on workplace engagement cites these three factors as the most important when it comes to engaging talent.

To obtain an impression of what a high degree of sustainable success looks like, it’s important that you seek out market leading organisations that encourage talent to work with purpose and autonomy to achieve mastery.

The following four companies, all established within the last 20 years, are great examples of the link between success and culture.

Zappos: est. 1999

The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, is a thought leader on the principle of culture driving customer service. In his book, Delivering Happiness, he outlines how Zappos encourages happiness in a corporate setting to deliver excellence to its customers.

With Zappos reporting revenues of over $1 billion annually, this approach has clearly worked.  Hsieh reports there are three types of happiness: pleasure, passion and higher purpose. He believes that higher purpose – being part of something bigger than yourself – is the most important when it comes to sustainability.

Zappos’ higher purpose, to which all of its employees subscribe, is delivering happiness.

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.” –Tony Hsieh

Google: est. 1998

Google, one of the worlds most highly demanded companies in the technology employment market, is famous for its 20% rule – that is, employees can spend 20% of their time working on anything they want.

This rule facilitates both employee engagement and the bottom line, as around half of the products launched by Google each year come from the time afforded to their employees for passion projects.

Google uses this initiative as an example to teach their employees about the importance of mindfulness, emotional intelligence and neuroscience in expanding leadership capability, and improving collaboration and performance.

This concept is the brainchild of Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan and is called, ‘Search Inside Yourself.’  So successful has Tan’s influence been at Google, that Search Inside Yourself has now developed beyond Google into a globally recognised program which is run as a not-for-profit organisation.

Facebook: est 2004

When Mark Zuckerberg was developing Facebook, the company’s number one objective was clear, grow.  Zuckerberg wasn’t yet focused on profit or revenue; he remained undistracted from his single purpose.

Some twelve years later, this purpose has not only been realised but the value and influence of the organisation is also clear.

For many years, Zuckerberg, has discussed Facebook’s purpose as connecting people all over the world with the hope that it encourages a culture of greater empathy.

COO at Facebook Sheryl Sandberg is a great example of what can happen when a company culture encourages autonomy, mastery and purpose. According to Forbes, in 2015 Sheryl had a net worth of US $1.31 billion. Having started the Lean In movement, which encourages gender equality at home and work Sheryl now champions the very growth culture that has enabled her to reach the heights she has she has.

Atlassian: est. 2002

Atlassian is renowned as one of Australia’s business success stories. Each year the company hosts a number of ‘work on whatever you want’ days; referred to as ‘ship it days.’ These days provide an opportunity for true autonomy as they require employees to deliver what they have developed overnight.

Known for a casual and comfortable work environment that encourages social interaction and collaboration, Atlassian has become famous for their culture and are sought out as an employer of choice globally.

How can we use these lessons within our own companies?

  1. Ensure all employees know and feel aligned with the company purpose
  2. Provide employees with the autonomy they need to create, innovate and deliver
  3. Encourage and support mastery across your business with professional development opportunities.