brandon west

Leader, Flip the Reeds Over

For the new studio remodel, I bought a reed diffuser for our small, one-person Zoom room at PHOS (AKA our quiet room, AKA our nursing moms room, AKA the Butterfly Room). 

The ​​tobacco patchouli scent is a straight 10/10. So. Good.

Though, I’ve noticed the smell of diffuser reeds doesn’t last all that long. Their scent fades over time.

  • Day one is a profound and filling perfume
  • Day two is a perfectly diffused aroma
  • Day three has some good smells
  • Day four is a faint fragrance
  • Day five only has some intermittent traces

To maintain the diffusion of the scent within the space, once a week, someone has to go into the room and flip the diffuser reeds over. The reeds that were once rich with oil begin to run dry and new oil needs to be introduced.

Vision Leaks

I believe that every executive leader’s number one responsibility is to guard the purpose of the organization they’ve been entrusted to lead. Leaders must labor to keep mission and purpose central within their operations, processes, and people development. 

The only problem: vision leaks. The pleasing scent of purpose can fade quickly. A difficult season or a challenging quarter full of losses or mistakes can create organizational grief and damage strategic clarity.

If you’re more of a visionary leader, the temptation can be to think that if you just host another team meeting and read your mission statement again, you’re done. People will get it, be inspired, and all will be well.

Answer honestly, how long does purpose last on your team? When you flip the purpose reeds over, how long does that new scent fill the room?

Purpose management is hard work. It’s not one-and-done. The oil dries out, the scent fades, and the reeds have to be flipped over and over and over again.

Purpose Sniff Test

Where is your business at right now? Is your purpose a raging fire that drives your people each day or is it a faint memory of bygone eras?

Below are some questions to help you determine the current state of purpose infusion in your teams:

  1. Can each of your team members confidently answer the question, “What is our company’s purpose?”
    If you’re not sure, survey them.
  2. Does your company’s mission help arbitrate decisions that need to be made for your team members, clients, and vendors?
  3. When your team tells stories about what is going on at work, do they tell stories of your company’s problems or the impact of your purpose?
    Realistically, it’s both. So, how compelling is the one story over the other?
  4. Is your company’s purpose one of the primary catalysts for team morale? What actually fires up your team?
  5. What are people complaining about inside the company?
    Oftentimes, the themes of these complaints are lagging indicators of the team’s adoption and ownership of the organization’s purpose.
  6. How frequently is your mission or purpose discussed in management-level meetings?
    You need to smoke out how deeply your purpose has been integrated within each department and level of the business. Does it only sit at the top of the org chart?
  7. How much laughter do you hear in the office and in meetings?
    Assuming your people are a part of your mission, do you see and feel the effect your purpose has on culture and morale?

If you’re feeling like purpose may be running a little dry in your business, here are some ideas to help you perform an organizational reset:

  1. Host a skip-level meeting with downstream team members and ask them a question about the impact of purpose in their role (e.g. When have you felt most proud of being a part of our team this past year?)
  2. Get back into a regular rhythm of storytelling around your mission and purpose and engage other team members in this storytelling
  3. Celebrate your mission in action during team meetings, allowing others to give shoutouts to team members for how they’ve lived out the mission and values of the company
  4. Establish a cadence of quarterly all-team meetings to corporately refocus on your purpose (we call them Quarterly Vision Meetings at PHOS)
  5. Invite your team to champion purpose alongside you (the phrase “I need your help” can be a huge asset in purpose-driven leadership)
  6. Publicly embrace company failures, discuss lessons learned, then move on (every leader will get things wrong, but you can’t sweep those mistakes under the rug or linger on them too long; if you do, you’ll erode team trust and traction)

The Surprising Effect of Purpose On You

The first time I went in and flipped the reeds over in the diffuser, I noticed something I didn’t expect. After I touched the reeds, I had oil left on my fingers. There was enough still on the reeds that it left some on me and I smelled amazing all day. The process left an impact on me.

As leaders of our organizations’ purpose, we are just as needy to be reminded of our why as every person on our team. Do not think that you are immune to the corporate temptation to just clock-in and clock-out. 

It’s hard to keep our eyes fixed on our purpose. There’s too much work to be done, too many problems to be solved, and too many fires to be put out. The attractive smell of a powerful “why” can quickly run dry and our job is to regularly reignite a purpose worth working for within our business.

Leader, go flip the diffuser reeds over in the purpose jar. Every time you do, the office will be renewed with the satisfying scent of purpose, but so will you.

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