Tattoos are designed to be permanent things, and most people don't get them unless they're absolutely sure the image will hold real meaning for the rest of their lives. And for nearly 4,000 founders, members, franchisees, and employees at Anytime Fitness, the company logo easily meets that requirement. These individuals were willing to literally "bleed purple" because they believed so deeply in what the brand represents to them.
Chuck Runyon, the company's CEO and co-founder, knows that the passion people have for the company is no accident. He and other leaders at the business have worked hard to create a culture with clear values that provide a deep sense of purpose. The need for that sense of purpose, he says, is greater than ever today. That's due to both changing workplace culture expectations and the way technology like smartphones has blurred the lines between our work and personal lives.
So how exactly do you create this kind of positive culture? Runyon tells me that it breaks down to asking just four questions, as he discusses in more depth in his book, Love Work: Inspire a High-Performing Work Culture at the Center of People, Purpose, Profits, and Play.
1. Do we matter?
As a brand, look inward and ask yourself: What would happen if we didn't exist? Who would it impact and how? Let employees convey how their job impacts their life and uncover your purpose.
"Humans have a basic need to feel needed," said Runyon. "[For example, when I coached a freshmen basketball team,] when the less-talented players understood how their efforts could impact the team's chances of winning, they played and cheered harder, and the team chemistry improved between the superstars and the less-talented players. The same dynamic is true for employees. It's a leader's job to draw a direct line from each employee's contribution to the performance of the company and the potential impact those contributions have to benefit customers or the greater good."
2. What's our impact?
Think big. How is your product or service making things better for people? Every organization has a broader impact. Don't underestimate it. Honor it.
"Leaders frequently underestimate the emotional connection people have to their jobs," Runyon said. "Most people spend half their waking hours at work and often spend more time with co-workers than friends or family. So it's not surprising that a job often becomes part of a person's identity. And people want their lives to be meaningful. They want to be able to proudly state to their friends and families, 'This is what I do every day. I help make a product or service that benefits ____.' A leader needs to be able to help the employees fill in that blank."
3. What's our calling?
Find a mission that feels relevant to your culture and then put resources behind it to make it a reality--contributions, volunteerism, or mentoring. Purpose-based efforts attract and retain talented people, achieve higher engagement, and fuel growth.
"If your company provides a product or service that can't be directly tied to a 'feel-good benefit' (i.e., your company makes paper clips or a mousepad), then we suggest identifying a cause to rally around and support," said Runyon. "The most obvious place to look is within your community. [We] came to realize that every community has charitable causes of all types and sizes. Some may be 'micro-charities' that operate with revenue of less than $50,000 a year. To those charities, every dollar, volunteer hour, or in-kind barter of services is a big deal. There is no reason for any business not to adopt a local cause to rally behind, thereby bringing purpose into the workplace values and culture. Doing so allows employees to proudly tell others, 'I make paper clips and we also support _____.' A leader's job, once again, is to fill in the blank with that cause."
4. How can we 501(c)(3)?
Operationalize your purpose through a foundation or charity. Use your expertise to help it run a more impactful organization--helping it fulfill its purpose by fulfilling yours.
"If your company has the sufficient means, you can form your very own 501(c)(3) charitable organization, but it will require time, money, and company resources," said Runyon. "If your company isn't ready for that sort of investment (ours wasn't), another option is to seek out an existing organization to partner with--and leverage its administrative experience and operations, allowing your company to stay focused on running the business, while raising dollars and awareness or volunteering for the cause. This is the route we ultimately chose."
Runyon knows there's legitimate pressure that makes responding to these calls to action a challenge. "Merely running the business gets in the way of loftier goals for most leaders," he said. "It's easy to get caught up in the grind and drift away from sharing stories about purpose, significance, and impact. Plus, it's more difficult to measure intangibles like 'satisfaction,' compared with measuring revenue, expenses, profit, or other company KPIs. But the data is now indisputable: Higher emotional connections with employees equals higher engagement, which, in turn, contributes to a better bottom line. And, ultimately, that's what leaders are judged on."
To that end, Runyon doesn't have just one proof the approach works. He's got 4,000. Work with vision and you just might get 4,000 too.