“A lot of companies talk about work-life balance. We’re more about work-life integration. At the end of the day, it’s life.” – Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, New York Times, Sunday, July 18, 2015
Zappos is known for their maniacal focus on great service. But they are also known for their quirky culture and great benefits. Business leaders regularly study what they do and how they do it. Recently, Mr. Hsieh has implemented some controversial approaches in an effort to restore the close-knit community environment Zappos’ success was built on … and that many (including Hsieh) believe has been lost as they’ve grown.
He’s not alone. Many successful businesses bemoan the loss of esprit de corps as their companies move from the entrepreneurial to the established phase. And many turn to radical changes to get it back (like Zappos decision to get rid of managers through an operational system known as Holacracy). But as I read the article, I wondered if one of the root causes was not something simpler than that.
Hsieh talked with the New York Times about what the early days in that close-knit 100-person start-up felt like: “Once you have that level of friendship, there’s higher levels of trust. Communication is better, you can send emails without fear of being misinterpreted; people do favors for one another.” Sounds like a great place to work – and by all accounts Zappos is – businesses can not be successful on fellowship alone. Zappos success was built on more.
Yes, familiarity is important. It breeds comfort and trust. But what most small start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures have in common beyond conviviality is a shared sense of purpose. It’s us against them. It’s us against the world and for our cause. It’s a “kicking over the tables” “let’s do this thing” shared belief in the righteousness of a common goal and the stacking hands to get there. That’s what purpose-driven entrepreneurs have in common: they see what they do as an avocation, not just a vocation. They don’t leave their passions at the door when they come to work, they bring them along because their passions directly inform the purpose of their ventures.
When you hire people who are just as passionate about your purpose as you are, you’ll find people think of their role as more of a calling than a job. And discussions with their managers will be about the integration of life and work, and not balance. Balance implies percentages and quantifiable measures. Integration is more than numbers. The combining of two similarly important things to create a whole. Purpose is the glue that binds work and life together to become a whole life. A whole person. Because as Hsieh says, at the end of the day that’s what it is. Life.
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Haley Boehning is the Chief Change Officer at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.