Profit after purpose
Cynics might chuckle at talk of ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ in the commercial world. People work for a salary, they say, and to pay them, companies pursue profit. If the work has meaning, that is secondary.
The truth might be the reverse. Some of the most wildly successful and disruptive companies or organisations put purpose long before profit. As argued in Daniel Pink’s bestselling book Drive, Wikipedia, WordPress and Firefox were all effectively developed by unpaid volunteers or through open source models in which many key contributors received no financial reward, or even recognition. They were interested in the nature of the problem, the process of collaboration, or the utopian vision embodied in the technology (this is certainly true of the Internet’s founding fathers, like Tim Berners Lee). In short, all those goals that Erickson and others have articulated as intrinsic motivators. And their output has been far from trivial: Wikipedia is now the world’s go-to encyclopaedia, WordPress powers a quarter of Internet websites, and Apache, the world’s most used web server, is developed and maintained by an open community of developers.
Meritocracy and openness
While the five-category framework is a useful heuristic, it’s also true that people share certain common needs which are key to a healthy working culture that gets the best out of its people. One of those is autonomy. Rigid hierarchies are disillusioning and innovative companies build a more open, meritocratic structure.
When Darren Childs took over as CEO of UKTV in 2010, one of his primary goals was to build a corporate culture that generates a regular flow of good ideas. This meant radically changing the organisational structure and day-to-day running of the company. Mr Childs dispensed with the more traditional ‘command and control’ hierarchical, which he says is “better suited to the industrial revolution than the ‘digital revolution’”, in favour of a more open and collaborative environment where everyone works to brainstorm on ideas. “The new environment allows for collaboration and ideas to come from anyplace,” says Mr Childs. “One way we can disrupt the industry is by having more great creative ideas.”
The cultural transformation has paid off. During Mr Childs’s tenure, UKTV has launched new channels, video-on-demand and non-linear programming products, created a huge raft of original hit shows, and formed partnerships, including with pay TV providers BT and Sky. Viewership, revenue and profits have soared, with 2015 proving to be the most successful year in UKTV's 23-year history. “Our culture is the single biggest contributor to our financial success,” Mr Childs says. “Focusing on culture is one of the most important things a leader can do to change performance and outcomes.”
It is also one of the toughest innovation challenges business leaders face today. Entrenched corporate cultures thwart innovation efforts and suffer complacency in the face of disruption. Business leaders are trying a variety of approaches to reinvent their culture and deliver better innovation. Companies such as Cisco, Coca-Cola and GE have launched ‘internal start-up’ programmes, where teams work in an entrepreneurial bubble, to stimulate creativity. Others, including Booz Allen and UKTV, have launched Shark Tank style competitions where employees pitch ideas to improve the business, and the best ones get funding and support.
“Great ideas can come from anywhere,” says Mr Childs, who notes that more than 70% of his employees been involved in pitches to the quarterly ‘Innovation Pot’, which has led to several successful investment projects. One noteworthy example is a social media campaign for the 2015 premiere of Most Haunted, a ghost-hunter reality show. An employee suggested they run live-stream behind-the-scenes camera feeds on the network’s YouTube channel throughout the live ghost hunt event. That ‘second screen’ attracted nearly one million viewers and spurred 14 million tweets, according to Mr Childs, making it one of the most successful social media initiatives the company has ever run. It is one more confirmation, he says, that great innovation is not exclusive to the C-suite. “Everyone at UKTV knows they can contribute ideas and that they will be rewarded for their contributions. That empowers them to think differently on behalf of the business and provides new learning for us all.”
Recognition is a second cultural attribute that can drive disrupters. As companies get larger and work becomes inherently more complex, people can start to feel they are lost in a machine – risking the ‘clock-in, clock-out’ culture that disrupters and innovators avoid. Helping individuals see the direct impact of their work is vital to a culture of innovation. Companies must continually find ways to celebrate individuals for the work they do, says Mr Twiddy.