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The Butterfly Effect of Purpose

Speakers: Michael C. Bush, CEO, Great Place to Work

Great Place to Work's CEO, Michael C. Bush shares the most apt analogy to describe the core of what "For All Leadership" means and the impact that we all can have on the world through living the values of purpose-driven leadership.

Show Transcript
Michael C. Bush:

It's really, really good to see you. Today I'm going to talk to you about the caterpillar. The caterpillar is a fascinating animal. It's egg is planted and in three to five days it hatches and then it pursues its primary purpose, which is to eat, and it eats, and it eats, and it eats ,and it eats and then when it's time to rest, you know what it does? It eats. It just keeps eating. Pursuing that purpose and its growth is amazing. When it hatches, it's two millimeters large and it grows to be 45 millimeters in just two days. Just think about that. A baby when it's born is 20 inches large, just think in two weeks, if it grew like a caterpillar, it would be 33 feet large, and when Shaquille O'Neal saw this baby and he'd be like mama.

Michael C. Bush:

And then all of a sudden it's called to continue to eat, and to think about whether it should do something different on the plant that it's living on, and then something happens. It's called to a new purpose. It's being directed. It doesn't really know why, but there's something else that this caterpillar needs to do and so it does it, just like people. There's CEOs who are like the caterpillar, eat, eat, eat, money, money, money, profit, profit, profit. That's all they focus on, they restructure, they reorganized, they wear a dashiki on the Monday of Black History Month and in the afternoon they go back to their non diverse work teams.

Michael C. Bush:

And then something happens, they have a child and the child's born with the gift of autism. From that moment forward, their lives are never the same. They have a child who adopts another child who's African American and this is a guess who's coming to dinner type situation. At that moment, they care about things that they never had to care about before, or they have a child who suffers from mental health, mental illness, and this child uses the company health benefits plan and calls for an emergency appointment and finds out you can be seen six months from now on Tuesday at 2:17 PM, that's not satisfactory. When these experiences happen to people and you look in the eyes of another human being, you never look at them the same way because you realize you're connected. Every person you walk by is dealing with these same kinds of issues every single day. This is how we know we are different. The caterpillar doesn't choose its purpose. Purpose chose the caterpillar.

Michael C. Bush:

Thank you. The transformation, at Great Place To Work, we do a lot of research on leaders, leaders who are trying to transform and we want to help them transform. Every leader in this room, every leader we know has a dial, something like this. There's a group of people who have a positive experience working with us and there's a group of people who have a neutral experience working for us. Sometimes they connect with us, sometimes they don't, and there's a group of people who just have a negative experience working for us. Well, what we found through our research is there are actually five types of leadership experiences that leaders create. The first is the unintentional leader and we call them the unintentional leader mainly because they never intended to be a leader. These are fascinating people. These are people who are outstanding individual performance.

Michael C. Bush:

The organization needs them, but to pay them more money, they have to be given people because a lot of compensation schemes only pay more money based on the number of people you have. You go to this outstanding individual performer and you say, hey, we want to give you more money because you're an outstanding performer. The person goes great, but we have to give you some people. I don't like people. Okay, but look to give you more money, we got to be giving some people. You know, I don't like people. Okay. Finally they yield and they take that promotion and it has quite a consequence on the people that they work for because they're unintentional. They don't really want to lead people. Now, if they want to lead people and they want to get better, they do and they move into the next category where almost half of the people are having a positive experience.

Michael C. Bush:

We call these the hit or miss leaders. Sometimes they're great and sometimes they're not so great. There's nothing wrong with these people. They are developing. This is a good thing. This is the progression of almost every people leader and then next is the transactional leader. This is the leader that 67% of the people are having a great experience working with them and they're working on the other group, but these are the leaders that are ahead of schedule and under budget. These are outstanding performers and they are continuing to develop with support and coaching. They move into the next category, the good leader. This is the leader who was connecting with 80% of the people that work for them and working on the balance. These are the leaders that in the open comments in our survey, people say, I'm here because of my people leader and then there's this elite group, the for all leaders. This is a strange group. This is a group of people that they could connect with somebody who's been with the company 90 days and has been with the company 19 or 20 years. It doesn't seem to matter.

Michael C. Bush:

Every person they meet, they treat as a person. They might be running manufacturing, but when they meet somebody in the marketing department, they feel it's their job to coach and support that person. They just have a different kind of a view and they always think about the company in total, not just the part they run and they think about everything outside of the company. They think about the community where they do business and they think about the world. These are for all leaders and I've met some of them. You're going to meet many of them on this stage today, but there's a few that I just want to point out who won't be on our stage today. These are leaders that I have sat with like Jim Kavanaugh, the CEO of World Wide Technologies. I spent some time with him and his team over dinner and all we talked about was purpose, greatness and people, EBITDA and profit never came up. It was purpose, greatness and people. Another leader Cynt Marshall, used to be a senior executive of diversity and inclusion after several operational roles at AT&T, she retired. That's what she thought.

Michael C. Bush:

Now she's the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks and they're doing pretty well this year and I know she cares about basketball, but she is trying to do so much more than just basketball. And then there's Aneel Bhusri, the co founder and CEO of Workday running his second people first company, and he always says happy people, leads to happy customers. It just makes basic sense to him. It's not a chicken or the egg phenomenon, it's happy people makes happy customers. And there's Kelly Grier, the vice chair and managing partner of EY, who is now working with her inner organization to make sure that we understand there are people who have neuroscience differences that have a really tough time in the working world, who if we find a way to welcome them and make the working world work for them, they make outstanding contributions. This is a Great Place To Work For All leader and there's Heather Brunner, the CEO of WP Engine.

Michael C. Bush:

Fast growing medium sized company who last night shared with us the 65% of her management team is women and 35% of her company are people of color. And when you look in their open comments, what do they say? They actually get treated better at work than they do in society. This is a for all leader. And finally James White, the newly appointed CEO of Ocean Spray, who works to make sure his company's a Great Place To Work For All and every company that he interacts with, these are purpose-driven leaders, just like the caterpillar that starts with one business, eating, eating, eating. Rosa Parks also had a business, she was a dressmaker. That's really all she wanted to do. And then one day she was called, pulled to do something else. Mohammed Ali was a boxer. There's a generation of people who don't know he was a boxer because they only know him as one of the world's greatest humanitarians. This young boy from Kentucky that was accepted all around the world for the love that he spread all around the world.

Michael C. Bush:

The curious. These are the people that we love at Great Place To Work because these are leaders early in their career who are thinking, maybe I'll try and be purpose-driven. I feel like it's a risk. We love them because they have three questions. The first question is what is purpose? And we let them know that purpose is much bigger than them. The For All mission is much bigger than them, but at the root of it, what they have to do is care about what their people care about. This is the defining difference. They have beliefs as leaders, but they have to find out what their people believe in and then take actions based on those beliefs. For example, there may be a leader who doesn't believe in climate change, doesn't believe there's a problem, but there are people do. Well, a four all leader decides, okay, we're going to minimize our carbon footprint.

Michael C. Bush:

Maybe I don't believe in it, but my people do and I'm going to do it because I'm going to follow my people. That's servant leadership. That's for all leadership. When people find out that you're willing to do that, they commit themselves fully to your organization. Their purpose becomes the organization's purpose and the organization is unstoppable at that point. Question number two, why does purpose matter? This is the moment that I absolutely love. This is when I go, I'm supposed to leave on the five o'clock flight. I'm leaving on the nine o'clock flight because it's about to be great. There's nothing better than a curious mind when you can share data and we're a people analytics company, I have tons of it and I can share with this curious leader, the fact that companies over the past 20 years that have been on the Great Place To Work lists have outperformed the S&P 500, the Russell 2000 and 3000 by a factor of three to one and the last two years of measurement with our new Great Place To Work For All methodology.

Michael C. Bush:

The companies on our list have outperformed those embassies four to one. It's an outstanding experience and as curious leaders start saying, okay good, I think this data's going to be useful and we share more data. We share with that leader the fact that even in great companies, one out of eight people, 12 and a half percent of all working people, when they're faced with checking the box of what demographic group they belong to, they choose not to check it. And then when you look at the rest of their survey results, what you find is they're not having a great experience. They don't feel emotionally or psychologically safe. This lets the for all leader know they need to do something to work with their leaders, to develop their leaders, to make sure it's a great place to work for all. No one should be afraid of checking who they are within a company because to claim victory, these people have to feel safe.

Michael C. Bush:

These people have to be willing to commit themselves fully. These people shouldn't have to hide parts of their personality, or the things that they believe in, or who they are from the company because if they don't feel safe they won't fully commit to the company. Question three is how do we get there? Well, just like the caterpillar, we got to get on the move. We have to go from point A to point B. We have to leave the past behind us. The caterpillar leaves the plant for the first time, attaches to a new plant and surrounds itself by something called a chrysalis, which is its final transformation cocoon. And inside something amazing happens. It completely restructures every organ within its body. It's nerves, it's cells. Every part of its structure changes. Even its brain is completely rewired. When it becomes a butterfly it has no recollection of its life as a caterpillar.

Michael C. Bush:

Well, how does a leader rewire their brain? There are three steps. The first is humility. You may feel like you're a person. Well, I don't really have anything to learn from caterpillars. They don't live very long. Well, guess what? We don't live very long either and every so often we have an experience that reminds us of that. Life has meaning because of the obligations that we have with one another, whether we care for one another and feel the experience of caring for others. This is what clarifies our purpose. Curiosity, the for all leader needs to stay curious. The for all leader when meeting a stranger needs to know how to approach that stranger in a way that's free of unconscious bias or the thing I'm really afraid of, which is conscious bias. We need to be able to meet people as though they're that kid in elementary school that we didn't know very well, but we saw them every day and so when we see him we kind of feel kind of warm because we've had a common experience.

Michael C. Bush:

What if we treated every stranger that way? It would drastically change who we hire, who we develop, and who we support, and who we promote. If we think about the sands in the desert, each grain of sand representing a human experience. Your experience is like that of a grain of sand. Think of all the knowledge you're missing based on your inability to connect with other people, and be curious about who they are. It also requires bold action. In every company there's a board of directors, there's an executive team, management teams, and there are so many seats at the table, and there is glass ceilings and other things preventing people from getting there. People who look like this, the so called hard to find, they're not hard to find for my life, but for some people they seem to be hard to find. Well, there's usually a situation where this group consistently becomes second. You came in second, you were almost there because another candidate is chosen.

Michael C. Bush:

The solution is simple, add another chair to the table. It's simple. Don't pick this person or that person, this woman or that person. Take them both. It's the only way we're going to make change happen in the next 10 years because these positions don't open up. We need to think of and not or, so I have a question for you. Do you want to be a caterpillar? Do you want to stay a caterpillar? Well, don't forget birds have to eat too. Maybe it's time for flight. The Monarch butterfly goes through four generations in one year. The first three generations, the butterflies die in two to six weeks, but the fourth generation, something amazing happens. It goes through the same process and then something happens. They don't die, they live. They live six to eight months? That's like three generations of humans living to 80 years of age and then the fourth generation lives to 2,180 years of age. It's amazing what happens and they soar.

Michael C. Bush:

They create a wind that rides upon the wind. They join other monarchs, sometimes as many as a billion monarchs and they go up to a height of 10,000 feet and they fly 3000 miles. In their life as a caterpillar, they cover 20 feet. Well, this is us. We're flying now, we're soaring. I firmly believe we are that generation. We are that special generation. Our time has come, the stakes are high. We have the stock market at its peak for if you own stocks, it's great, but most people don't. The other thing we know is after a stock market peak, there's a recession. The cost of living is out of control. People go jogging and just ignore the homeless people. We work with people that are saddled and crushed by student loan debt. As we look around the world, there's tension. It's not across borders, it's within the same country. This phenomenon of us versus them. While we debate global warming, it's obvious that the water table is rising and so is the sea level.

Michael C. Bush:

These issues are at their peak and one of the things that happens in history is when these issues are at their peak, there's a few people who decide its time to have more power. There's a few people who decide it's time to have all of the power. The good news is this has happened before. We've seen this. There are times when fascism and communism were at their peak and it became time for democracy. There are times when racism and hatred were at their peak and it was time for civil rights. The question is, what time is it now? We believe it's time for companies, for businesses to firmly be a force for good, to use their intellectual fire power and their massive resources to help solve these complex problems that the world is facing. And we know the only way this will happen is if they are led by purpose-driven leaders. This is the challenge. Our challenge to you is to work together with you to assure that by 2030 every board room and every executive team will be equitable and inclusive. Are you with me on that challenge?

Michael C. Bush:

We just need more seats at the table.

Michael C. Bush:

Just imagine one purpose-driven leader. That leader can affect the lives of thousands of people, even millions of people, we know this. But imagine if purpose chooses a million leaders that can soar together to create this unimaginable world. We call this the butterfly effect on purpose, which is what we need. It's what we're pursuing at Great Place To Work For All, so if you're a butterfly and there are some here, thank you for the wind you're creating. We're going to soar with you. If you're the curious caterpillar, I got news for you. You've already left the plant. Congratulations. And if you're not yet curious, you're that CEO or leader that it's money, money, money. I can promise you this. One day you will meet someone or something will happen in your life that will alter the course of your life together. It will alter everything. And what I know is something great is about to happen and it's going to happen because something great is going to happen.

Michael C. Bush:

At Great Place To Work we love all these people, all these leaders. We firmly believe in them. We don't believe in leaving anyone out. This summit is all about working together, everyone involved to support each other, to create this butterfly effect for a greater purpose. Thank you very much for listening. I hope you have a fantastic summit. Thank you so much for coming. Thank you very much.