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This article was published on February 15, 2014

Learn to work with purpose, or don’t work at all

Learn to work with purpose, or don’t work at all
David Hassell
Story by

David Hassell

David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that delivers a full suite of integrated tools - David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that delivers a full suite of integrated tools - including continuous employee feedback, objective tracking (OKRs), pulse surveys, and peer recognition. Named "The Most Connected Man You Don't Know in Silicon Valley" by Forbes Magazine, David has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Wired, Fast Company, and the Financial Post. You can learn more about 15Five and David Hassell at

David Hassell is the CEO of 15Five. This post originally appeared on the 15five blog.

All companies work towards measurable goals. New features in the product, selling target customers and boosting the bottom line. But goals are meaningless without knowing why you’re aiming for them.

Seems obvious, but far too frequently we forget to examine why certain objectives were created in the first place.

As business leaders, knowing the “why” is the critical compass of your organization. We often focus only on the “what” and the “how” forsaking the raison d’etre and the opportunity to foster our team according to the true mission, which is likely more than just making money.

We believe most businesses strive to have an impact on the world and want to encourage leaders to develop their employees according to the big vision of the company.

Above all else

Some companies seem to just get it right. Beyond the products and services they create, they inspire a religious following of customers. Competitors try to duplicate their efforts and while they can be successful, they always fall short. Why is Dell unable to ascend to the level of Apple? What makes them different?

Simon Sinek shows us how industry leaders distinguish themselves, not by what they produce but by articulating their “WHY”.  Apple has a very clear WHY (they believe in challenging the status quo) and that is how they distinguish themselves from others who create similar products.

Before we ever began writing the first line of code, we asked “Why 15Five?” We developed our software out of a desire to improve companies and the people who work for them in a very tangible way by addressing a common problem. We determined that fluid communication was one of the biggest challenges companies faced.

Only then did we begin creating our lightweight tool for companies to develop their unique language and for employees to share their voices.

Learn a new language

Since a business is little more than several dedicated individuals coming together to fulfill a common purpose, without team cohesion, that vision can never be realized.

Teams gather together around a vision and execute that vision around common themes and dynamics – what has become known as workplace culture. Culture is based on and cannot survive without a common language.

What is your shared way of speaking? Do you tell people that they “should” do that thing, or do you “offer” a solution?

Maybe you simply reframe the problem so that they are empowered to discover the solution on their own. Are you a boss and a manager? Or are you a sponsor and mentor? The way we communicate is inherently woven in our culture.

These distinctions seem basic but they form the solid foundation upon which businesses grow and flourish. Choose each word carefully. Change a word or two and the sentence transforms. Suddenly, the paragraph has new meaning, and the entire chapter feels different.

Finally, we have a novel that motivates and inspires instead of just a collection of words that merely provide information.

Our cultural language revolves around transparency. We ask specific questions and provide a platform for employees to speak freely about their challenges, triumphs, and desires. We believe that to get the answers you seek, you must ask the right questions. The answers become conversations and those words become actions.

A shared language leads to the shared vision that keeps us working late on projects and it is the reason that those extra efforts feel more like pleasure than work.

Managing not to manage

As an example of the impact of language on culture, take the word “management”. In one sense, the manager is the decision maker who controls the employee’s daily tasks.

But effective “management” is more like mentorship. Team members are given direction to produce results that meet the company’s needs, but also to foster their personal and professional growth.

In our culture, we provide space for employees to flourish and trust that they will not fail. I have found that the most effective mentors know when to offer hands-on support and when to step away and let the employee struggle to understand a new idea or cultivate a new skill. Instead of just overseeing tasks, develop your talented team by understanding their need for support.

As financial growth leads to larger teams, different products or services, and exciting new objectives, remember your why. Breathe it into your culture and your language, and allow it to guide the way you communicate with your team.

Your “what” and “how” will surely change over time, but without collective commitment to your purpose, “what” you do is just work.

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