Purpose trumps cash

The founder of Dress for Success and CEO of DoSomething.org, Nancy Lubin, was astounded by a meeting she attended in the corporate world where the staff was demoralized and debilitated by the news that their advertising budget for a promotional campaign was slashed to a mere $2 million dollars.

It was in this moment that Lubin realized the nonprofit sector has for decades honed the practice of getting the job done for next to nothing. After Lubin compared her epiphany with fellow nonprofit leaders, she realized there were many colleagues in the sector who could share their advice on doing more with less—in Lubin’s words: “the power of zero.” Lubin argues that “zilch is what drives us to be more innovative, more passionate, more creative.”

In other words, zilch is the mother of invention. Her belief is that this way of doing business should be followed by the corporate and nonprofit sectors alike. In her book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business, Lubin discusses eleven ways in which she and fellow nonprofit leaders have done more with less.

Here’s a look at number one:

Do more with less cash to throw at people. According to Lubin, salary doesn’t guarantee great performance or a fantastic work ethic. In fact, one of the toughest jobs to land even if you’re an Ivy League graduate is a position with Teach for America. The pay is miserably low, yet the job is so coveted that in 2009 the organization accepted fewer than 10 percent of applicants. In other cases, such as nonprofits like Wikipedia, they depend successfully on a gigantic volunteer labor force.

    Be part of a bigger purpose. While altruism attracts employees, a bigger purpose will keep them. Are YOU proud of what you make or do? Does it make you feel like an industry leader?

    Include every level of the company in the pursuit of your purpose. A strong sense of purpose reminds employees of their long-term impact, inspiring them to remain part of it. When people feel they work with you rather than for you, they will find their work more meaningful.

    Create a physical work environment that stimulates your people. Have new hires initially sit in the bull pen so they can learn by proximity. Lubin advocates for fewer closed-door meetings, fewer for-your-eyes-only memos and fewer executive retreats.

    Offer skill development. Lubin likes to bring in thought leaders to spend unstructured one-on-one time with an employee who can benefit from their experience. Ask yourself what your employees are learning right now and what is new to them.

    Remember that accomplishing goals feels pricelessly good. Instead of handing down the quarterly goals, try asking the staff to create them. Do your employees know how their goals fit into the overall goal? Ask yourself if the organization’s goals are well defined or loosely defined.

    Learn more by following our blog and Twitter this month about Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business. You can also subscribe to the Page to Practice service to stay informed about great books that help you work smarter and faster.

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