Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on why your employees need purpose

30th May, 2017

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, recently gave his commencement address to the graduating Harvard class.

His number one message for graduates? You need to build businesses with purpose.

Too many businesses, he argued, have been set up with the sole intention of making money, which leaves employees disconnected from a deeper satisfaction with their work.

At a time when automation remains a key concern, membership in communities is declining and young people are feeling disconnected from society around them, people are increasingly dissatisfied with their work life.

Generations ago, people found meaning in their work – but that’s not the case anymore.

Zuckerberg relayed one of his favourite stories, of when John F Kennedy visited the NASA space centre.

Kennedy came across a janitor carrying a broom and asked what he was doing. The janitor’s reply was simply: “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

That janitor felt a part of something bigger than himself, and tied the meaning of his work to that purpose.

How many people can say that they feel tied to their employer’s business purpose?

If your businesses’ purpose is to simply sell units and make goals for the quarter – then don’t be surprised if your employees become about the best offer as well.

The case for purpose

This isn’t entirely theoretical, either.

According to Deloitte, two out of three employees expect to leave their current job by 2020 – making this the most transient workforce since the idea of full-time employment began.

Given that millennials are expected to make up more than half of the global workforce by 2020, that’s a fairly big deal.

Part of increase in short-term employment is the fact that the nature of work is changing, but what Deloitte found is that what makes an employer an employer of choice for millennials is purpose.

It turns out that millennials are seeking to make a meaningful contribution to meaningful work.

“Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void,” Zuckerberg said. “To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge: to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose.”

It begins with finding shared ideals, finding a common purpose that goes beyond a spreadsheet, and creating an environment where people are valued.

It doesn’t matter what kind of company you are, either.

If you sell building supplies, you’re helping build homes and businesses. If you provide payroll support, you’re helping people get paid on time.

If you’re MYOB, you’re helping businesses succeed.

This isn’t all touchy-feely stuff either.

If your business purpose isn’t spelled out to your employees, it can have disastrous consequences.

Why purpose isn’t just nice to have

MYOB CEO Tim Reed is big on culture – and there’s a good reason why culture day is his favourite day of the year.

Aligning a culture from top to bottom is vital if all parts of a business are to move in the same direction.

A failure to communicate Facebook’s purpose to the rest of his team almost lost Mark Zuckerberg control at the company.

“My hope was never to build a company, but to make an impact,” Zuckerberg explained. “And as all these people started joining us, I just assumed that’s what they cared about too, so I never explained what I hoped we’d build.

“A couple [of] years in, some big companies wanted to buy us. I didn’t want to sell. I wanted to see if we could connect more people.

“Nearly everyone else wanted to sell. Without a sense of higher purpose, this was the startup dream come true. It tore our company apart.”

Without a communicated sense of purpose, Zuckerberg found that those around him were at the company to make a buck – while his purpose was to connect more and more people.

That’s why a business needs a business purpose beyond meeting quarterly sales projections – and why it’s crucial that the business purpose is communicated.