What motivates people to bring their best to work? To stand out from a sea of sameness?

An invitation to change the world.

When people find something noble and heroic to be part of, their lives and work take on meaning and significance. Innovation, change, and growth is difficult and messy. It does not always go according to plan. So, what fuels the fires of perseverance when the critics are firing arrows and the demons of self-doubt set in?

It is a conviction that you are solving a problem that really matters.

In their book, Cause!, leadership experts Kevin and Jackie Freiberg examine how having a cause can create significantly higher levels of employee engagement, loyalty, and performance.

National Life, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, and Medtronic do something much more than just selling insurance, making computers, flying people from one point to another, selling organic food, and manufacturing medical supplies. Employees in these companies are caught up in a cause that touches them at a deep emotional level--something that transcends profitability and the bottom line. They believe that the products and services they create have great social value. The emotional connection they have with this larger cause releases a powerful flow of passion, pride, perseverance, and productivity. The revolutionary spirit, maniacal focus, missionary zeal, and upbeat attitudes make these places feel more like crusades than businesses.

And guess what? They are blowing the doors off business-as-usual when it comes to profitability and shareholder value.

Consider Southwest Airlines as a case in point. The overwhelming majority of Southwest's 45,000 impassioned employees show up to work everyday fully awake, fully engaged, and firing on all cylinders. Why? They are working for a cause. The people of Southwest Airlines believe they are in the business of freedom. That is, giving people from every walk of life the freedom to go, see, and do things they never dreamed of doing.

These "freedom fighters" have created 45 consecutive years of profitability in an industry that has traditionally struggled. Southwest's operating revenues have grown from $2 million in 1971 to $19 billion in 2015. Southwest's cost per available seat mile is the lowest in the industry; it serves more passengers per employee and has fewer employees per aircraft than the rest of the industry. And, it gets more flights out of each aircraft per day than anyone in the business. What does this mean? Southwest turns more airplanes, faster, with fewer employees and lower costs than every other major carrier in the world! Southwest also tops the industry in every major customer service metric--service, baggage handling, and on-time performance.

The more you show employees how their individual contributions link to the overall cause for which your business fights, the more heroic they will feel about what they do. And that sense of heroism will draw out of them a drive to succeed, a will to win, and a deep-seated passion that is unlike anything you've ever seen!

When your employees come to work are they coming to a company or a cause? Are they just earning a paycheck or do they belong to a movement of people who are earnestly fanatical about what you do?

The answers to these questions will tell you whether or not you're doing everything you can to inspire the very best from your people.

Check out the below video for Jackie Freiberg's take on the power of cause.

Published on: Mar 24, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.