Mission: Critical

February 28, 2017

Sonoma Executive MBA students

By John Stayton
Executive Director of Graduate & Executive Programs
School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University

In 2000, I shut down a lucrative business (sales and marketing of computerized industrial equipment), built over 15 years, that provided a great lifestyle.  I rarely needed to work 40 hours per week, and had complete control of my schedule. I gave that up for a role in higher education in which I was working twice (or more) as many hours for one-third the compensation. I still work more and earn less than I did in the late 90s. What gives?

My work was not personally meaningful. My work was not connected to any calling or higher purpose. Once my wife and I bought our Sonoma County farm and my son was squared away for college, I had a personal career crisis. I felt like my only choice was to find a vocation that connected to a sense of meaning and purpose in my life.

I found that purpose in graduate business education. To me, this was a leverage point for making significant change in the world. If I could help educate current and future business leaders to be more aware of the needs of the stakeholders they affected, and more conscientious about the impacts of their organizations, the effectiveness of my efforts would be multiplied many-fold.

Seventeen years later, I am still in the field of graduate business education. This only works because my personal mission is aligned with the organization's mission. What is the mission of the School of Business and Economics? To create extraordinary learning experiences for our students and advance best business practices in the North Bay and beyond. This aligns with my view that graduate business education should be a transformative experience that expands the capacity of students to be effective and conscientious managers and leaders. I am highly engaged in my work because of this alignment.

The evidence that an organization's mission impacts employee performance is compelling. In 2013, Gallup conducted a meta-analysis of nearly 50,000 business units in 37 countries, and found that companies that engage their employees in the mission of the organization have better profit margins than those that do not (Chris Grocurth, Why Your Company Must Be Mission-Driven, March 6th, 2014, Gallup.com). Gallup identifies five impacts of mission on performance:

  • Employees are more loyal among all generations, including Millenials, Gen Xers, and Boomers.
  • Customers are more engaged with the company and employees are more engaged with customers.
  • Organizations are more aligned with strategy and are better able to deliver on that strategy.
  • The decisions of company leaders are made with more clarity.
  • Companies are able to measure employee engagement relative to the mission.

According to Gallup (State of the American Workplace 2017), only 33% of US employees are engaged at work, while at the most well-run organizations in the world that number is about 70%. Engaging in the hard work of identifying a clear and compelling mission and infusing it through the organization is clearly a worthwhile endeavor, one that we hope our students and alumni adopt and promote in workplaces in the North Bay and beyond.