Driving Motivation Through Purpose

John Spence

Several factors motivate employees to do great work. Money is a significant motivator, but not always at the top of the list. Recognition, an opportunity for growth, challenging work, an enjoyable work environment and being empowered are all critical elements. However, I believe there is something more powerful than all these: Working for a truly meaningful purpose. Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.
Many years ago, I was consulting for an organization that bought a business that manufactured high-tech carbon fiber helicopter blades. In the first meeting under the new ownership, they brought all the employees together to introduce the new CEO. When he took the stage, he said just a few words and told the group that he wanted one of their customers to speak to them.

Out strode one of the top generals from the Pentagon. His uniform was covered with ribbons and medals. He was an imposing figure. He walked forward, put his hands on the podium, and slowly surveyed the room, making eye contact with people throughout the audience. He stood silently for several seconds, then looked over the assembled employees and said, “You make the blades for Blackhawk helicopters. Both of my sons fly Blackhawks in Iraq. Don’t kill my boys.” Then he turned and left the stage.

You could’ve heard a pin drop. The entire mood shifted. These people no longer made blades. They brought American sons and daughters home to their families by ensuring the blades did not fail. It wasn’t a job. It was a mission. People’s lives depended on them doing superior work.

Connecting people’s work to a noble purpose is easy for some organizations. Healthcare workers, first responders, educators and people who do research to develop new life-saving drugs. For other businesses, it can be a bit more challenging, but I would argue that credit unions don’t face that challenge.

Credit unions play a critical role in helping people achieve financial security. Every team member at your credit union is helping members buy their first home or put their kids through college. They assist your members in saving for a comfortable retirement or borrowing money to build their business. You are not some big bank. You are an integral part of their community.

When employees understand the important purpose that your credit union serves and how their work fits into the bigger picture, they are much more likely to feel motivated and engaged. They can see their impact and find meaning in their work, enhancing their commitment and enthusiasm. However, it is often difficult for a team member to connect the dots. They can’t see the direct line from their work to making a positive change in people’s lives. This is where the leaders come in.

Leaders across your credit union must work tirelessly to show every team member their work is important. They need to consistently communicate your credit union’s vision, values and purpose. Sharing stories and testimonials about the credit union’s positive impact on the community can be powerful. By showcasing real-life examples of how employees’ work has made a difference, leaders can help employees see their efforts’ tangible outcomes and significance. Regularly providing feedback and recognition to employees is also crucial. When leaders acknowledge employees’ positive contributions and accomplishments, it reinforces the importance of their work and the value they bring to the community. This recognition boosts morale and motivation and reinforces the noble purpose behind their efforts.

Remember that your credit union is simply a collection of buildings. What you sell (money) is a commodity. Your industry is highly regulated, so it isn’t easy to dramatically differentiate your products and services. It is your employees who hold the power to make your credit union successful. By understanding the critical role they play in shaping the financial well-being of your credit union’s members, employees become highly motivated to create positive change. They are the ones who, through their dedication and commitment, empower individuals, nurture dreams and transform lives. 


John Spence is widely recognized as one of the top business and leadership experts in the world. He has been working in the credit union industry for more than 20 years and serves as one of the lead instructors for NAFCU’s Management and Leadership Institute. To find out more about John, go to www.johnspence.com.

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