My friend Amy tells of a woman who runs a company that makes architectural stone. She has many moments during her days – meetings, specification reviews, logistics strategy, customer visits. Those are all good moments, part of the joy and challenge of leading a company.
But they aren’t the moment.
She tells of the moment when her team is finished building a beautiful stone fixture for a customer. Something they envisioned together on a whiteboard or a PC screen has become reality, beautiful and durable and functional and tangible.
You might think that’s the moment, but not quite.
The moment this leader lives for is when her team members, gathered around the final product, spontaneously pull out their smartphones and start taking pictures of the new installation. That’s the moment she feels the peculiar joy of a leader that comes from the intersection of making something beautiful for a customer and making great work for employees.
In addition to my consulting work, my family and I have a side business called Noonday Bread. Our model is unique: We bake two different varieties of bread most Saturday mornings. Our customers (aka Bread Fans) pre-order their bread and pick it up between noon and 3:00 p.m. at a local gourmet shop. Over the past several years, our little venture has helped us meet hundreds of people in our community and has provided excellent life experience for our boys. We use some of the proceeds to support micro-enterprise efforts in the developing world. Unlike a consulting practice, this venture is super-local and super-tangible. My kids can explain it to friends without getting that glazed look a description of my consulting job can evoke.
At Noonday Bread, I love a lot of moments but there are three I live for more than others. The first happens when we’re all in the kitchen shaping bread. A great big beautiful hunk of dough sits in the middle of the table. Upbeat music is playing in the background. Playful banter mixes with the sound of dough sighing as the air is pushed out of it and bench scrapers whack the table. It is a choreography of movement as we work in concert to turn 120 pounds of dough into 100 loaves of deliciousness. I love that moment.
But that’s not the moment…
Next comes what we call the “feeding frenzy.” We bake our bread to order, so most of our bread is sold before we put any ingredients into the Hobart mixer. But since it’s impossible to make exactly 102 loaves, we always make a few extra so that we’re not short. Once we know how many extra loaves we have to sell, we post a message to our Facebook and Twitter accounts announcing to our Bread Fans that we have extra loaves. We invite them to text us if they want to claim one.
Then we wait.
It takes only a few seconds for the phone to explode with life. We usually sell out within minutes. I love that moment.
But even that’s not the moment…
At our pick-up point, customers amble to the back of the shop where we’re set up. Many have a look of anticipation on their faces. We chat for a moment. We confirm their order on our customer list. They enjoy samples of that day’s bread. Then we hand over a super-fresh loaf, peeking out through the small plastic window of the paper bag. Usually, it’s still warm. Many of our customers do something instinctive: they cradle the bread in their arms, a smile of contentment creasing their faces.
That’s the moment I live for. Joy from our customers radiates back on our team. It’s why we call our loaves “Bundles of Joy.”
I’m lucky enough to have moments I live for when I consult with business leadership on strategy and building effective teams. There’s nothing like the moment when an insight flashes into the mind of a client in a strategy session – when something that was murky is suddenly clear allowing people to turn passion into action. Even better is when that insight helps the team connect their business success with doing something remarkable for the world. It’s a birth of sorts, full of potential and promise and wonder.
Ask your friends and colleagues about the moment they live for. I’ll bet it’s not when they get their paycheck, as good as that moment is. I’ll bet it’s not even when they get personal recognition, though we all like a pat on the back or the chance to walk across a stage. I’m pretty sure it’s not that quarterly review unless they happen to be masochists.
I’d put my money on this as the common denominator behind most moments we live for at work – and elsewhere for that matter. They’re the moments where we’re most connected to service, to contributing to a process that benefits others.
If you’re trying to figure out how to rally your troops around a cause, ask yourself these simple questions:
- What are the moments your company lives for?
- What turns your people on beyond all reason?
- Whom do they love serving?
- How do they contribute to a process that benefits others?
Figure that out and you have a bond that’s stronger than any financial incentive can create. Make it your mission to figure out how to manufacture more of those moments. And by all means, make them for yourself. That’s what will keep you charged up to face the tests that life and work so often serve up for us.