Skip to content

Why you need to be both a mentor and an intern at work (REVIEW)

wisdomThis review first ran in the Sept. 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Wisdom @Work: The Making of a Modern Elder

By Chip Conley

Crown Publishing


The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason to hope.

Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said it. And those of us in the back half of our careers are uniquely positioned to give this to our younger colleagues.

The timing’s right for elders to make a comeback in the workplace, says Chip Conley, author of Wisdom @ Work. Conley sold his boutique hotel business and joined Airbnb when he was 52 years old, working alongside 20-something digital natives and reporting to a CEO who was young enough to be his son.

Lots of us will find ourselves in similar situations at work. In 2002, 24.6 per cent of the American workforce was 50 years or older. That grew to 32.3 per cent in 2012 and could hit 40 per cent by 2032.

Every organization would be wise to adapt to an aging workforce and hire more people like Conley. Demographic diversity should be included along with gender and ethnicity as employers make the move to becoming more inclusive, welcoming and supportive organizations.

Along with providing “wisdom insurance” to young leaders, elders can offer high emotional intelligence, good judgment built on decades of experience, specialized knowledge, humility, holistic thinking, an ability to see the big picture and a vast network of contacts. Elders do a masterful job of combining know-how and know-who.

“In an era of machine intelligence, emotional intelligence and empathy – something older people have in spades – are more valuable than ever,” says Conley. “As we enter midlife, we embark upon a creative evolution that amplifies our specialness while editing out the extraneous. After a lifetime of accumulation, we can concentrate on what we do best, what gives us meaning and what we want to leave behind.”

Before signing on as an elder, you should know the job description’s changed. You’re no longer dispensing words of wisdom or being counted on to have all the clever answers. Instead, you’re now expected to be both a mentor and an intern. The transfer of knowledge needs to flow both ways.

So take a hard pass if you believe there’s nothing left for you to learn or if you think your primary responsibility is to provide adult supervision and be the only grown-up in the room.

“If you’re only making wise pronouncements from the pulpit, you’re unlikely to grow much of a congregation,” says Conley. “It’s time to stop with the generational name-calling and recognize we all have something to learn from each other.

“With five generations in today’s workplace, we can either operate as separate, isolationist countries with generation-specific dialects and talents co-existing on one continent, or we can find ways to bridge these generational borders and delight in learning from people both older and younger than us.”

To succeed as an elder, Conley says we must be willing and able to evolve, learn, collaborate and provide counsel.  “Being a Modern Elder is all about reciprocity. Giving and receiving. Teaching and learning. Speaking and listening. Everyone gets older, but not everyone gets elder. The first just happens (if you’re lucky and healthy). The other you have to earn.”

Conley’s written a playbook for those of us who want to be a teacher, mentor, student and intern. Why be a carton of milk with an expiration date when you can be a bottle of wine that gets better, and more valuable, with age.

The last word goes to Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky, who wisely hired Conley and leaned on him as an elder. “When you open your eyes, ears and heart, you’ll find that everybody has a story worth hearing. And if you’re paying close enough attention, someday your story could help others write their own.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The 8 expectations you must meet when a crisis hits your organization (REVIEW)

This review first ran in the Sept. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Crisis Ready

By Melissa Agnes

Mascot Books


The answer to the question “can people really be that stupid?” is always yes.

I keep this reminder in a frame beside my phone at work.

You may want to get one too for your office.


Even if your organization is blessed and loaded with really smart people, it takes just one employee to ignite a crisis by saying or doing something illegal, unethical, immoral or wildly inappropriate.

You should also assume it’s been captured on video. It’s one of the rules in a new book by crisis management expert Melissa Agnus.

The world watched a dazed and bloodied Dr. David Dao get dragged off an overbooked flight so a United Airlines crew member could take his seat. We saw an Uber driver get berated by former CEO Travis Kalanick. And we lost our appetite over a video of two Domino’s Pizza workers who grossly violated every imaginable health code standard.

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” a Domino’s spokesman told the New York Times. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

It may not be fair but it’s the reality for every organization.

When a video goes viral and spawns a crisis, there are eight expectations you must immediately meet if your organization has any shot at minimizing the financial and reputational hit. It took United Airlines two days to issue a public apology. In those two days, the airline’s market capitalization fell by $1.4 billion in pre-market trading.

  1. Notify your key stakeholders immediately and directly. If they matter to your organization, they need to hear the bad news from you first and not through the media or social media.
  2. Be transparent. Your attempted cover-up will be worse than the crime. “A mistake can be forgiven. The appearance of a cover-up will not be,” says Agnus.
  3. Deliver timely, consistent communication. “The longer you wait to communicate in a crisis, the more risk there is of the crisis spiralling out of control, and the more you risk losing trust and credibility.”
  4. Listen and validate feelings and emotions. In a crisis, emotion will always overpower reason. “If you want your message to be heard by emotional people, they need to feel as though you truly care about them, the situation, and its consequences.”
  5. Engage in two-way communication. “Gone are the days when you could deliver your statement, turn around, walk away, and go back to managing the incident behind the scenes.” In a crisis, we’ll be on social media, expecting real-time, back-and-forth dialogue.
  6. Communicate as a human and not as a lawyer or a logo. Yes, you’ll need a legal strategy to deal with a crisis but Agnus says it can’t be the public face of your response. Never leave stakeholders with the impression that covering your legal liability is your number one priority.
  7. Answer the most pertinent and pressing questions. “The longer you take to give people the answers to their primary concerns, the more frustration and loss of trust you will experience against your organization.”
  8. Hold yourself accountable and responsible. Prove that you’re serious about righting wrongs and committed to change. “People aren’t fooled by meaningless words, no matter how good they may sound.”

It’s no longer good enough to just have a crisis management plan, says Agnus. “It used to be that organizations – the smart ones, anyway – would create a crisis management plan, store it on a shelf or in a file, and rest assured that if a crisis were to strike they would be ready, as they had a plan just waiting to be activated. Today, choosing to rely on a crisis management plan is no longer sufficient. In fact, it puts you at a disadvantage.”

Instead what you need is an organization-wide and deep-rooted culture where your people are taught and empowered to mitigate risks, meet expectations and make smart decisions in real time.

“Crisis management isn’t a linear strategy,” says Agnus. “Unforeseeable, unexpected developments will occur, sometimes amplifying the challenges and other times lightening the load. You want to get your team to a level of preparedness that is instinctive, rather than solely being dependent on a linear plan that cannot possibly account for all the variations, bumps and turns that may present themselves.”

Agnus shows how to get a crisis ready program in place before you get the call about someone behaving badly and putting your organization’s reputation at risk.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The 3 phases for getting customers to know you, like you and trust you (REVIEW)

marketing planThis review first ran in the Sept. 1 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The 1-Page Marketing Plan: Get New Customers, Make More Money and Stand Out From the Crowd

By Allan Dib



You deep fry Hamilton’s best donuts. You bake the city’s best bread, brew the best craft beer or serve the best burgers and fries.

You’re Steeltown’s most talented stylist, photographer, event planner or yoga instructor.

But we won’t know that you’re the best or the most talented until we buy what you’re selling. Until then, we only know how good you are from your marketing.

And the best marketer wins every time, says Allan Dib, a serial entrepreneur and author of The 1-Page Marketing Plan.

A compelling argument can be made that Grandad’s Donuts at the corner of James North and Burlington Street sells Hamilton’s best donuts. Yet it’s Donut Monster on Locke Street that sells Hamilton’s best marketed donuts. Donut Monster has nearly 9,000 followers on Facebook and almost 4,000 followers on Twitter while Grandad’s has 4,000 Facebook followers and 463 followers on Twitter.

It’s the quality of your products or services that keeps us coming back as customers. It’s the effectiveness of your marketing that brings us through your doors for the first time. Marketing is how we get to know you, like you and trust you.

“The graveyards of failed businesses are full of businesses that had excellent products and services,” says Dib. “For the most part they failed because those running them didn’t pay enough attention to marketing. By far the biggest leverage point in any business is marketing. If you get 10 per cent better at marketing, this can have an exponential or multiplying effect on your bottom line. “

Don’t try copying the marketing strategies of your larger, more established competitors. Dib warns that entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t have the money, staff or time for building brand awareness.

Instead, you need to find the fastest path to making money.

Dib maps out that path in a one-page, at-a-glance marketing plan that can be filled out in less than 30 minutes. It’s a plan with three phases and each phase has a different marketing focus.

The first phase is all about getting prospects to know that you exist. You’re identifying a target market, crafting a compelling message and delivering that message through advertising media.

Believing that everyone is your target market is a newbie marketing mistake, says Dib. “Being all things to all people leads to marketing failure. Targeting a tight niche allows you to become a big fish in a small pond. It allows you to dominate a category or geography in a way that is impossible to being general.”

The next phase in your marketing journey is about getting people to like you. We become interested in what you’re selling and we’re thinking about buying from you for the first time. Your focus is on capturing leads, delivering value-building information and then converting leads into customers.

Your third and final phase is all about getting us to trust you so we become loyal, repeat customers and raving fans who’ll refer you to family and friends. You’re focused on delivering a world-class experience, increasing the lifetime value of your customers and orchestrating and stimulating referrals.

Approximately half of all small businesses fail. Many of the survivors limp along, with owners taking an involuntary vow of poverty. Dib’s marketing plan won’t save you from this fate if there’s no compelling reason for you to be in business beyond paying the bills. “If you haven’t first clarified in your mind why your business exists and why people should buy from you rather than your nearest competitor, marketing will be an uphill battle.”

As to how much money you should spend on marketing, Dib makes the case for having an unlimited budget. The key is to know where to invest. If every dollar you spend on marketing keeps bringing in more than a dollar worth of business, think of it as your legal money printing press and crank it up.

“It’s time to decide to become a great marketer and transform yourself from a business owner to a marketer who owns a business,” says Dib. “Once you make this exciting transformation, you and your business will never be the same again.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

8 steps to turn your potential into high performance (review)

This review first ran in the Aug. 18 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.eight steps

Eight Steps to High Performance

By Marc Effron

Harvard Business Review Press


There will always be someone who’s smarter than you.

And there’ll be someone who’s been blessed with better genes and looks, a more winning personality and a life of privilege thanks to mom and dad or their grandparents.

You can feel cheated. You can be resentful. You can feel sorry for the hand you’ve been dealt.

Or you can outperform pretty much everyone else by focusing on what Marc Effron calls our flexible 50 per cent.

Our unchangeable fixed 50 per cent includes our intelligence, core personality and socioeconomic background.

Our changeable flexible 50 per cent is all about how we set goals, behave, develop, network, present ourselves and manage our sleep. Your fixed 50 will only take you so far. It’s your flexible 50 that turns potential into high performance.

When it comes to becoming a high performer, there’s no shortage of well-meaning advice from books, bosses, family, friends and the Internet.

“Our quest for high performance is often guided by trial and error, as we do what we think is right and then hope for the best results,” says Effron, founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group.

Instead, Effron has identified eight science-based steps to becoming a high performer:

  • Set big goals and adopt a fewer, bigger mindset. “High performers want to meaningfully overachieve in the areas that matter most to the company – they promise big and deliver big.”
  • Behave to perform. “High performers work hard to identify the most productive behaviors, learn new behaviors where needed, and stop showing the less helpful ones.”
  • Grow yourself faster. Adhere to the 70 / 20 / 10 rule. Seventy per cent of your professional growth will come from your work experiences, 20 per cent will come from interactions with others and 10 per cent will come from formal education. To grow faster, identify which work experiences matter most to your organization and do as many of them as quickly as you can. Get both feedback and what Effron calls feedforward.
  • Build networks both inside and outside of work. “Those who connect more effectively have higher performance because they’re able to get more insights, favours and answers from more people.”
  • Maximize your fit. You’re more likely to succeed when your capabilities align with the needs of your organization. “It’s this fit, not just individual brilliance, that science says helps predict strong performance.” Know that as the needs of your organization change, so too must your capabilities.
  • Fake it. “A high performer needs to understand and display the few most powerful behaviors needed at that moment. Since you have a preferred way of behaving, you’re faking it any time you consciously display a behavior that doesn’t agree with your preferences.”
  • Commit your body. Science shows sleep matters most to our performance, exercise matters a little and diet has no measurable effect. Pay attention to both the quality and the quantity of sleep. Six to seven hours of shuteye is the sweetspot.
  • Avoid distractions. Steer clear of the too-good-to-be true performance fads that defy common sense and promise easy fixes. Effron advises against focusing on your strengths and says that science shows emotional intelligence doesn’t predict leadership success, a growth mindset is great for children and power posing is possibly the dumbest management fad to ever grace a TED Talk stage.

You can start taking these eight performance-boosting steps at any time, whether you’re at the front or back end of a career that’s on an upward trajectory or has stalled out and left you in a rut.

“The eight steps are straightforward, but they are not easy,” says Effron.  “Achieving them will take meaningful effort and personal sacrifice. High performance is a choice. Focus on what you can change and ignore the rest.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and lives in Hamilton.

The 3 types of leaders who make us quit (and the 2 who inspire us to stay)

great placeThis review first ran in the Aug. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

A Great Place to Work For All

By Michael Bush

Berrett-Koehler Publishers


You may want to see what’s being said about your organization on Glassdoor.

It’s a website that combines job postings with reviews from current and former employees. They rate your organization on work-life balance, culture and values, career opportunities, compensation and benefits and senior management. They also leave  comments on the pros and cons of working for you.

When the reviews are bad, lousy leaders are invariably to blame.

These leaders dwell at the bottom of five levels identified by the Great Places to Work research team. The team pulled data from hundreds of companies and 75,000 employees.

“A great place to work for all must have great managers for all,” says Michael Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work. “When leaders are more inclusive, more inspiring and more caring, they win on outcomes like talent retention, innovation and revenue growth.”

But when they’re clueless, cruel and confidence killers, they’re unintentional leaders. They’re often star performers who got put into leadership roles despite underwhelming or non-existent interpersonal skills. “These are leaders who don’t seem conscious of the impact they have on others, so their behavior can hurt the people they work with and the organization,” says Bush. “Employees reporting to an unintentional leader might feel like passengers on a bus whose driver doesn’t have a destination in mind and doesn’t tell the passengers what’s going on.”

While we join organizations, we quit unintentional leaders and two other lackluster types.


Hit and miss leaders run hot and cold and don’t always step up. Life is good if you’re one of the leader’s favourites and it’s like your worst day of high school if you’re on the outside looking in. “They don’t actively hurt an organization but neither are they actively supporting their team or performing their duties to the extent the organization needs.”

Transactional leaders get the job done and nothing more. “They are mainly concerned with checking tasks off a to-do list or hitting key performance indicators and consequently are not as forward-thinking or charismatic as leaders at higher levels.” These by-the-book leaders value getting things done over talking to people which leaves them with few, if any, personal connections. These leaders will have no idea and zero interest in learning what you do outside of work. You should get paid time and a half whenever you try to engage in small talk with a transactional leader who has all the warmth and personality of a bag of ice.

Good leaders are consistent, inclusive and sincere. They’re easy to talk to, understanding and fair. Employees will stick with the organization if they work for a good leader. If there’s a downside to good leaders, Bush says it’s their tendency to believe the ultimate responsibility for reaching goals lies with them and not their team. “Leaders at this level must abandon any ego attached to being the boss, and subsume their own interests in the service of helping others shine.”

The gold standard are what Bush calls “for all” leaders. These are those rare dream bosses who get the absolute most out of their teams and inspire loyalty and full engagement. No one leaves their teams and everyone wants to join. They prefer to lead from behind so the people who report to them will shine and do their best work. “For all leaders make everyone feel welcome and treated fairly and establish a strong sense of collaboration within teams as well as through different areas of the organization. They stand out for their ability to reduce politicking and favouritism to nearly imperceptible levels, perhaps because they do a great job of getting feedback from everyone and involving them in decisions.”

Most important, “for all” leaders go beyond the boundaries of business. They use their leadership position and profile to help promote positive societal change, from closing gender pay gaps to championing environmental sustainability and fighting racism. They speak up and take stands on issues that are important to employees, their families and society.

“The new frontier in business is about improving results by developing every ounce of human potential,” says Bush. His book shows how leaders can step up their game to develop that potential, turn their organizations into great places to work and earn top marks from current and former employees.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.


Are you answering what your customers wonder and worry about? (REVIEW)

they askThis review first ran in the July 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

They Ask You Answer

By Marcus Sheridan



Marcus Sheridan was on the brink of financial ruin.

The bank was calling. His credit cards were maxed out. His employees were sitting at home wondering if they still had a job.

Sheridan’s company installed fiberglass swimming pools. Finding homeowners willing and able to spend $50,000 on a pool was a tough sell in the aftermath of 2008’s global financial crisis.

Sheridan needed a miracle. “Unless we found a way to garner more leads and sales than we’d ever had, even though there were fewer potential buyers (because of this economy) than ever before, we were going to go out of business within a matter of months.”

The miracle arrived when Sheridan made his company a teacher of fiberglass swimming pools. Sheridan became obsessed with answering questions with fierce honesty. While competitors talked about themselves, Sheridan focused on addressing what prospective buyers were wondering, worrying and asking about.

They ask, we answer became Sheridan’s business philosophy and it saved his company.

lion question markHe started publishing articles and posting videos every week to his company’s website.

“How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” was one of the first articles to go up on the website. Pricing and cost were not something that pool builders posted on their websites. “The fact that no one had addressed this question meant a blue ocean of opportunity for the business,” says Sheridan. “The marketplace was dying for someone to be open and honest enough to address this question and so that’s exactly what we did.”

Sheridan also posted articles where he acknowledged that fiberglass swimming pools weren’t for every customer and even made referrals to other local installers.

Sheridan tracked what prospective customers did after reading and watching the content he posted online. The more content they consumed, the more likely they were to become customers.

His article on the cost of fiberglass pools would generate $3 million in new sales.

“Without exaggeration, this single article saved my business. It saved my home. It saved the homes of my two business partners. It also saved the jobs of all our employees.”

In 2007, Sheridan’s company sold 75 pools after meeting with 250 prospective customers for a closing ratio of 30 per cent.

By 2013 and with a website full of content, that closing ratio jumped to 79 per cent as appointments with 120 homeowners resulted in 95 sales. Sheridan’s team met with far fewer prospects yet sold more pools.

On average, the 95 customers who bought pools had reviewed 105 pages of content posted to the company website. They were well-informed and ready to buy when they met with Sheridan and his team.

Sheridan also discovered that the overwhelming majority of prospects who looked at less than 30 pages of content prior to an appointment never made a purchase. Care and attention could then be redirected to providing even better service to customers.

Whatever product or service you sell and whether you’re in the private, public or non-profit sectors, Sheridan says you are first and foremost a media company. To earn our trust and our money, you first need to show us your story, your company culture in action and the people who work for you. Customers are vetting businesses more deeply than ever before and we want to know what you believe and why you believe it.

Get everyone involved in drawing up a list of all the questions and concerns that you’ve heard from customers. Sheridan recommends hiring someone with journalism training who knows how to create clear and compelling content and work to deadline.

“As consumers, we expect to be fed great information,” says Sheridan. “Are you willing to meet their expectations? Or would you prefer that the competition be the one who answers the question for them? Remember, they’re going to get their answers from someone, so wouldn’t you prefer they get their answers from you?”

Sheridan is now the founder and president of a coaching and consulting firm that helps other companies create customer-focused content that drives sales.

His book gives you permission to do what you’ve always known your business should be doing to win customers. Quit talking about yourself. Instead, be the best teacher within your industry. Obsess over your customers’ questions and concerns. And win their trust and their business by answering with fierce honesty.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Media relations 101 for entrepreneurs

My colleague Jane Allison and I got to spend a morning with entrepreneurs participating in the 2018 Lion’s Lair competition organized by the Innovation Factory in Hamilton, Ontario.

We offered up media relations advice to an amazing group of job creators, prosperity builders, problem solvers and change makers.

Jane and I have been running free media relations workshops since 2007 as a way to thank non-profits, community groups and entrepreneurs who have inspiring stories to share.


Want to bring people together? Skip the usual networking event and instead work & learn together (REVIEW)

friend of a friendThis review first ran in the July 7th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career

By David Burkus

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Wash dishes or mix and mingle?

This is one introvert who’d happily roll up his sleeves, fill the sink and start scrubbing.

At Jon Levy’s parties, you get to do both.

You don’t just get invited to an Influencer Dinner at Levy’s home in New York City. You help cook the meal, set the table and clear the dishes.

Levy has one rule while everyone’s in his kitchen. You ditch the script that’s followed at every networking event. You can’t tell anyone who you are or talk about what you do for a living. You’re on a first-name basis until everyone sits down for dinner. You then break bread by trying to guess each other’s identity and profession.

Instead of making meals together, Pixar Animation Studios runs an in-house university for employees. Yes, you can take courses on how to draw. But you can also sign up for  everything from improv comedy and painting to acting and belly dancing.

Everyone can take up to four hours of paid work time every week to take courses. And you can excuse yourself from meetings that are booked when you’re supposed to be in class.

The value of the university is in the internal networks that get built, with frontline staff and new hires learning alongside senior executives and veterans from across the company.

Working together brings people together. Levy’s dinners and Pixar’s university also get around a common pitfall with traditional networking events. Along with being a painful exercise for introverts, we tend to go to events and strike up conversations with people we already know, who are in the same line of work as us and share the same view of the world.

This approach pretty much negates the whole point of building a network. We’re not meeting new people, expanding our thinking, questioning our reasoning or getting the diversity of ideas, insights and feedback we need.

“Networking events don’t bring us truly new contacts,” says David Burkus, a business school professor with an expertise in network science and author of Friend of a Friend.

“Instead, research suggests we are better off engaging in activities that draw a cross-section of people and letting those connections form naturally as we engage with the task at hand. You may not be focused on networking while you participate in such activities, but after you finish, you’ll find that you have gathered a host of new and interesting people that now call you friend.”

Research also shows that you want to be the person who, like Jon Levy with his dinner parties, serves as the broker and bridge between networks of people who would otherwise never meet. “The most connected people inside a tight group within a single industry are less valuable than the people who span the gaps between groups and broker information back and forth,” says Burkus.

“Playing in between the clusters and connecting them to each other can provide huge advantages not just for brokers but also for the organizations they work with.”

Burkus shows how to make and strengthen the connections that will have an outsized impact on your work and career.  “Your network is influencing you, and so you better begin influencing your network. Navigating your network deliberately – making choices about who your friends are and being aware of who is a friend of a friend – can directly influence the person you become, for better or worse. Your friend of a friend is your future.”

And if you’ve got a friend in me if you need someone to wash and rinse the dishes at your next networking event.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

5 questions for leaders who want to lead a purpose revolution at work

purposeA version of this review first ran in the June 23 edition of The Hamilton SpectatorThe Hamilton Spectator.

The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good

By John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen

Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.


I have the privilege of working with some pretty remarkable professors and instructors who never fail to impress.

They’ve challenged students to raise more than $160,000 for Food4Kids and deliver Christmas presents to every child at a North Hamilton primary school. They’ve coached and mentored students to sweep award categories at national and North American advertising competitions. They’ve put students to work renovating public housing units, a church, rec centre and community theatre. They’ve taught women how to renovate kitchens and bathrooms.

Teaching courses is their job. Transforming lives and launching careers is their purpose. It’s what keeps them motivated semester after semester and gets their students engaged in their learning.

So if you run a restaurant, you’re not just serving food. You’re giving the lunch crowd an escape in the middle of their day and a place at night and on weekends to celebrate milestones and moments with family and friends.

If you run a cleaning service, you’re giving  homeowners the gift of time. If you run a clothing store, you’re giving people the self-confidence that comes with looking good.

Every business and organization has a purpose beyond selling products and services and making a profit.  Connect people to that purpose and they’ll want to work for you, spend and invest their money with you.

Finding that purpose can be a challenge. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, authors of The Purpose Revolution, recommend the search has to start with yoru senior leadership.

Izzo and Vanderwielen have helped hundreds of companies and leaders find their purpose by first defining their legacy.

To figure that out, they ask leaders five questions.

  • How will the world be a better place because of what you’re doing?
  • How will your family be better off?
  • How will the people who work with you be better off?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and the community where you do business?
  • And when people talk about your influence and impact, what words and phrases do you hope to hear?

“Time and again, we have seen how the conversation in a room changes when you ask leaders this simple question – legacy is a powerful word,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.

“Rarely do their responses focus on profits, revenue or market share. Instead, they tend to talk about the difference they have made in the lives of employees, customers, the community and their industry. When they connect to their legacy, they become aware of their higher and perhaps truest aspiration.”

Leaders who are clear on their legacy can then get to work on building a purpose-centred organization.

“We found that a CEO or business owner acting as a champion of purpose makes a huge difference in any organization aspiring to its higher purpose.”

Lacking a higher purpose is a problem in this current era of social good.  A revolution is underway, say Izzo and Vanderwielen. Yes, it’s important to make money. Yet current and prospective employees, customers and investors expect organizations to also make a difference. We want our work, purchases and investments to help leverage a better world now and into the future.

Do it right and you earn our loyalty. Ignore the purpose revolution and you risk irrelevance.

According to Izzo and Vanderwielen, a purposeful organization is wholly committed to making life better for customers, employees, society and the environment both now and into the future.

Yet the authors say a majority of organizations get a failing grade when it comes to closing the gap between what companies are doing and what employees, customers and investors expect.

Common pitfalls include:

  • Believing that making money is a purpose. “Profits do matter, but sustainable profits are almost always an outgrowth of serving a purpose.”
  • Confusing purpose with a marketing program.  Purpose is everyone’s responsibility and must drive day-to-day decisions. “It is more important to have purpose and live it authentically than it is to simply tell people you have purpose.”
  • Making purpose a one-way street. Instead of a top-down edict, you need genuine involvement by employees who are motivated by their own values. If they can live those values by working in your organization, you’ll build a purpose-driven organization that feels authentic to customers and investors.
  • Purpose is just stuck on a wall, with well-meaning words framed behind glass. “The conversation about purpose is more important than the articulation,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.  “A well-articulated purpose is good but what determines its effectiveness in a company is how alive the conversation about that purpose is.”

Along with leaders adopting personal purpose statements and then encouraging everyone to do the same, Izzo and Vanderwielen recommend that organizations to replace job functions with job purpose. “When we connect to the true purpose of our work, it is transformed from a mean’s to an end to an end in and of itself.

“The purpose revolution demands commitment, and that requires discipline. Right now, there are companies and leaders who will one day be known for having won in the age of social good. The question is whether you will be one of them.”

To join those ranks, Izzo and Vanderwielen give practical advice and a gameplan for hands-on purpose-building across your entire organization.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.


5 keys to launching & leading a movement at work or in your community (REVIEW)

PURPOSEFULThis review first ran in the June 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Maker?

By Jennifer Dulski

Portfolio / Penguin


Manal Rostom started wearing a hijab after surviving a bus crash that killed her cousin. She wanted to thank God for giving her a second chance at life.

Manal launched a Facebook group called Surviving Hijab and invited 80 women to join her online community. Overnight, 500 women signed up.  Today, there are more than 570,000 members.

Manal is also an avid runner who wants to empower hijabi women to be active and play sports. So Manal emailed Nike asking for help. Nike said yes. In 2015, Manal became the first hijabi athlete featured in a Nike ad campaign and the first coach of an all-women’s Nike running club in Dubai.

In 2017, Manal was invited to join other Muslim female athletes in testing Nike Pro Hijab prototypes. The hijabs went to market earlier this year.

“That swoosh gives us power,” Manal told Jennifer Dulski, author of Purposeful. “It was magical. It was the first time that a multinational brand said they would cater to this segment of Muslim women.”

So how about you? What’s your passion? What cause do champion and what change would you make at work or in our community?

“I believe wholeheartedly that every single person has the capacity to start and lead a movement that changes the world,” says Dulski, Head of Groups and Community at Facebook and the former President and Chief Operating Officer at “We all have the power to inspire people and spark movements around issues that matter. Whatever your movement or your cause, you have the ability to affect people’s lives.”

All of us have a choice, says Dulski. We can be managers or movement starters. “Whereas managers accept the world as it is, movement starters burn with the passion to make it more just, equitable and engaging.”

Building a movement starts by setting out a clear and compelling vision and purpose. What’s your desired future and why do you want it? “A movement simply cannot exist without a vision to rally people around and the more clearly articulated that vision is, the easier it will be to mobilize people to achieve it.”

Once you have your vision and purpose, start winning over decision-makers. Browbeating and publicly shaming the powers that be is not a winning strategy. You need allies and long-term partners, says Dulski. Understand what motivates key decision-makers and then make a realistic ask that lends itself to an easy yes.

Now it’s time to inspire your team and keep them motivated. You need every single person to buy in and fight for the cause. “Without others supporting you and spreading your cause, you really don’t have a movement.”

Expect criticism and use it to your advantage. Listen to genuine and constructive feedback. Ignore what Dulski calls the tsunami of haterade and remember the army of supporters standing with you. “One way to overcome the cruelty of haters is to build enough positivity around us to dwarf the negative reactions we do receive. Put more positive around you than negative, and it can boost you up, even amid the cruelest of trolls.”

And finally, be mentally prepared for the journey ahead and the obstacles to come. You’ll be scaling the mountains you aim to move. “The key to success is holding on to the belief that you will have more sunny days than cloudy ones and to just keep climbing, every day no matter what.”

Living a life in pursuit of positive impact is why we’re all here, says Dulski. She highlights movement makers like Manal throughout her book, showing how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

“We’ve seen the power that can come from those who step up to start movements and from the large numbers of people who support them – new, purpose-driven companies, new ideas and approaches within staid organizations, and new policies and laws that create a better world for all of us. Now it’s your turn.”

Dulski shows how to do it. So why not you?

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.