Organizational psychologist Adam Grant offers a counterintuitive approach to today's mission-driven mantras.
In modern-day management, there’s a whole lot of hoopla around mission statements. Your mission should sit alongside unique values (see Mark Zuckerberg’s tips on that) that together offer a vision for a world changed, however narrowly, by whatever your company makes, sells, or promises.
Believing in a mission is insufficient nowadays. Your employees (each and every one of them!) should ingest, live, and breathe said mission—preferably so much so that given one year left to live, they would choose to spend it working at your company, as Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has suggested. If your mission fails, you fail. And if an employee doesn’t rally around your mission, they’ll hold you back.
Writing in the July 2018 edition of “Wondering,” a monthly feature on his website, Grant responds to a reader who asks whether companies should only hire people who are aligned with their purpose (aka mission). His response: “I’m with Aristotle (and Goldilocks): as with just about everything in life, you can have too much of a good thing.”
Hire too few employees who have passion for your mission and motivation will suffer, Grant says. But hire too many, and “you’ll end up more vulnerable to groupthink and tunnel vision, and more resistant to change. You get evangelists who single-mindedly spread the purpose without questioning the side effects and unintended consequences.”
“Every workplace needs at least a handful of people who object to the organization’s mission. They’re the ones we can count on to anticipate the harm the mission might do—and take action to prevent it,” says Grant.
Often, these are the employees we might categorize as original thinkers, cultural misfits, or “disagreeable givers.” Disagreeable givers, as Grant defines them, are people who share of themselves and make their colleagues better, but they tend to be grouchy if not an outright pain in the ass.
Grant says it’s the disagreeable givers who make for the best employees—because, as Quartz At Work’s Oliver Staley has noted, they’re “more likely to fight for what they believe in, challenge the status quo, and push the organization to make painful but necessary changes.” To attract these people, Grant suggests creating a job called “Mission Critic,” or even just including the responsibility in a few of your job descriptions. On interviews, he says, ask applicants about the unintended consequences the mission might have, and who it might harm. Your organization needs these people, counterintuitive as it may seem.
So, if a teammate expresses skepticism about your company’s vision, be open-minded. Ask why they’re concerned, and what they’d do differently. What’s more, question why you’re so steadfast in your own commitment to your organization’s mission. If it’s because you genuinely believe the mission is helping you to become the best version of yourself, or that it can create good in the world, then godspeed. If it’s because your identity is predicated on fixed ideas and a blind sense of stability, you’re probably hindering personal, and organizational, growth.