No. 4, June 28, 2012

How to enhance team performance; part 2, creating an inspirational direction.

In “The Happy Professional” issue 3 a Team Performance Model was introduced, allowing you to diagnose your team and uncover the main factors that should be optimized for obtaining the best performance. In this issue I will discuss the first and probably most important factor, the need to create and communicate the overall purpose of the organization and a shared sense of inspirational direction.

The miracle of ALPE D’HUZES (Alpe D’Huez (FR), 6/7 June 2012)

A major cycling event took place under the motto “Never, ever quit!” In memory of those who died too young of cancer and to inspire those who are fighting it, 8000 people raised funds by cycling up the famous Alpe d’Huez mountain (1860 m./6100 feet) up to six times in one day. People succeeded this enormously difficult physical and mental challenge  because they were inspired by a common dream,  for cancer to evolve from a deadly disease into a chronic illness.

The importance of an inspirational direction.

The miracle of ALPE D’HUZES perfectly demonstrates the importance of a shared sense of inspirational direction. The moment people are inspired by a common vision of the future, they don’t have to be instructed or motivated. They are self-motivated to work towards the common goal  with reduced self-interest. Thus, inspiration is key, but what does inspiration mean? Inspiration means literally, ” to breathe in and be filled with spirit of the gods (Latin word spiritus means breath, inspiration, spirit).  The modern meaning of inspiration is a motivating action or influence that results in creative works and productivity. True inspiration always serves a higher goal, it transcends self-interest and is based on universal values.  For example the Alpe d’HuZes organization is founded on the absolute belief that you can attain the greatest possible satisfaction if you put your heart and soul into helping others.

If you want to build a ship, don’t assign tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry -



Above quote is a perfect summary of the essential leadership task to   create a higher goal for the team and a shared sense of  inspirational direction. For that to work, the higher goal must move, touch and inspire the people (must have “spirit”). As a result the team becomes inspired and focused , so their actions are aligned and drawn towards the inspiring  goal (as a magnet). This higher goal is often referred to as the Mission (and sometimes Vision) statement. It is the ultimate reason for its existence and activities. Unfortunately, many Mission statements are politically correct statements, SNORING-BORING and non-differentiating (‘Mission Monitor’, Sarah Pellis, University of Applied Sciences  INHolland. 2010).  Too many companies make their mission statement after weeks of mind-numbing work and then never refer to it again.  Because Mission is such an eroded word, I will continue to refer to the terms higher goal and inspirational direction.

Creating an inspirational direction.

Reading all this may trigger many objections in your mind, like… my work cannot be compared to charity work like Alpe D’Huez, for me the situation is very different. And, we already have a mission statement and it is snoring-boring. Or, …we are such a small organization and we have so many things to do to simply survive, why go through all the trouble. Okay, I understand you are not convinced yet. Let me summarize the main arguments in favor of creating an inspirational direction:

  1. An inspiring higher goal is a mandatory condition for creating an inspired team.
  2. An inspiring higher goal makes a team more productive and creative, it gets the best out of people.
  3. You can place two businesses side by side with exactly the same equipment and opportunities and one will always outperform the other and that is simply because of the culture and a shared sense of inspirational direction.
    ‘Companies whose employees understand the mission and goals enjoy 29% greater return than other firms’, (Watson Wyatt Work Study).
  4. The belief in an inspiring higher goal produces “perseverance”,  one of the greatest elements of success . Knowing why you do what you do can make a huge difference in difficult times.
  5. If your organization already has a non-inspiring mission statement, it is always in your power to create an inspiring higher goal for your team that is related to the main mission statement.
  6. If you manage a team of people, you are accountable for their performance so you need to take initiative for creating an inspirational direction.

A higher goal is short, inspiring and calls people to action. At the same time it makes sense to define the higher Values & Standards that guide employees in the way they think and act (examples of values are “Excellence”, “Integrity”, “Compassion”, “Respect”, “Responsibility”). The higher goal and values together constitute the inspirational direction of the organization.  Below you can find some examples of  how a good inspirational direction looks like:

Merck (Pharma company)
Higher goal: To preserve and improve human life.
Values: • Corporate social responsibility • Unequivocal excellence in all aspects of the company • Honesty & integrity • Profit, but profit from work that benefits humanity

BD (Medical technology)
Higher goal:  To help all people live healthy lives.
Values:  BD’s approach to corporate citizenship is embedded in our company culture, and our Core Values are lived out every day by our associates: • We treat each other with respect • We do what is right • We always seek to improve • We accept personal responsibility

ASN Bank (Dutch green bank)
Higher goal:  ASN Bank aims to promote a sustainable society and is guided by that aim in its  activities. To ASN Bank, promoting a sustainable society means to help bring about changes aimed at ending processes whose harmful effects are shifted to future generations or foisted onto the environment, wildlife or underprivileged people. A society where people are free to make their own choices but without harming others. A society without poverty, where people enjoy good education, healthcare and housing.
Values: Sustainability is the guiding principle in all of ASN Bank’s activities. Sustainable development means develop¬ment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Our dream is for cancer to evolve from a deadly disease into a chronic illness. We facilitate and inspire people to lead Happy and Healthy lives in Harmony with cancer. We aspire to become the Dutch organization that makes a real difference in and for the life of the cancer patient.

St. James Episcopal School (Texas, USA).
Our mission is to develop each child to his or her fullest potential, spiritually, intellectually and physically. That each may grow in grace, enjoy freedom through knowledge, and lead a healthy productive and meaningful life.

The Dutch  ASN bank is a great example. For years the bank outperforms other banks. It has the highest consumer rating for its honesty and living its values and it is the fastest growing bank in the Netherlands. Moreover, it clearly demonstrates the impact on society when an organization pursues their higher goal and truly lives their values. Just imagine if all banks and mortgage brokers would operate from  the belief that their actions should not harm others. Would we be in the economic crisis we are in today?

Let’s do it.

Together with your team or in small subgroups (5-6 persons), you address following questions:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What are we doing?
  3. For whom are we doing what we are doing (target group)?
  4. Why are we doing this?
  5. What is the highest purpose we serve by our activities?
  6. How do we strive after that purpose?
  7. What values should guide us in the way we make decisions, deal with colleagues, customers, competitors..?

Now you can start drafting a declaration of your  inspirational direction. Use the checklist to make sure the declaration meets all criteria for a good statement. Let it rest for at least one week and then meet again for further discussion. Be critical and improve the statement until it feels good.


  1. Does it clearly and explicitly express the purpose of the organization? Is it credible?
  2. Does it motivate, inspire and bind employees at all  levels?
  3. Are your employees motivated and willing to commit to it?
  4. Does it call employees at all levels to action? (in how they work and in the decisions they make)
  5. Is it used as the backbone to make strategic choices?
  6. Is is grounded in the organization’s activities and environment?
  7. Is it valid for at least 5 years?

The real test is if it is influencing employees’ action every day, anchoring decisions large and small.

You want to know more about this and/or you are seeking an inspiring coach that can guide this process? Don’t  hesitate to contact me!

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.’ – Patañjali (Yoga Sutras) – (2nd century B.C.)

 What applies to a team also applies to you as a person. What is your higher goal in life and work? When you look back at the end of your life, what will really matter? Are you pursuing the right goals now?


Next time: How to enhance team performance, part 3, the importance of values.

Enjoy the summer and talk to you next time,