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Rosabeth Moss Kanter holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School, where she specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. Her strategic and practical insights have guided[…]

Why do we have so little engagement in work these days? Companies need to be about values.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter:  I’ve been so interested in why we have little engagement in work these days.  It’s a problem all over the world and yet the happiest people I know are the people who work on projects that make a difference in the world.  Where all of a sudden a lot of effort clicks into place and they feel that sense of satisfaction because they’ve made a difference.  I call those Rubik’s cube moments.  You know, the Rubik’s cube is something you twist and try to get the colors right until you get everything in perfect alignment.  Well it doesn’t happen right away.  You have to work hard.  You have to go through drudgery and then all of a sudden when it clicks into place you feel really high.

It’s like a project team working on an innovation or a new product and they struggle with new brainstorms, with creativity, with finding a way to get something different done.  And then all of a sudden after that struggle it clicks into place.  And that’s how people find joy at work.  They find it not because it isn’t hard work, they find it because it ends up being satisfying because they’ve pulled it all together.

In the 21st-century company, and I don’t care if it’s small or large, values are a new piece of strategy.  In fact maybe the most important piece.  You need a sense of purpose.  You need values.  And you need a common vocabulary that comes from sharing a sense of purpose and values.  It’s absolutely critical.  And in great companies, take for example Proctor and Gamble where their statement of purpose values and principles are a potent management tool.  It means that people dispersed all over the world understand how to make decisions.  And a lot of those decisions are made because the company through its products can add social value to it society.

So one of the most striking examples is Proctor and Gamble in Nigeria.  Where their diapers team, the Pampers team, they have to sell diapers.  But the company’s values say making a difference in the lives of consumers.  And also you can’t sell very many diapers if children are dying at a large rate.  And so they took on the question of infant mortality.  And said our purpose is making children thrive.  It isn't just selling diapers.  And so they created a program in which they send mobile clinics with a doctor and two nurses out into areas that don’t have access to healthcare.  And the doctor and two nurses work with the mothers and they help the babies thrive and by the way they get a few free Pampers.  And not only has this made a difference in health in Nigeria for children but they're selling an awful lot of diapers.  So values and purpose are an integral part of strategies that companies have these days.  And it’s also incredibly motivating.  It gives people a sense of purpose, a reason to go to work everyday. They are making a huge difference.

You know, sometimes people think that values and purpose and serving society are a luxury of good times.  You know, it’s only when you’ve done really well and you have a little bit left over that you give it in the form of philanthropy.  Well that’s not what I’m talking about.  Checkbook philanthropy doesn’t change the world.  What changes the world is having a view of how you contribute to society embedded in the business strategy.  Then it’s not a luxury of good times, it’s actually a necessity in hard times.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd