In 1990, what would become one of the most famous quotes from Jack Welch, the late business titan and former CEO of GE, was featured in an annual report.
“We want GE to become a company where people come to work every day in a rush to try something they woke up thinking about the night before. We want them to go home from work wanting to talk about what they did that day, rather than trying to forget about it. We want factories where the whistle blows and everyone wonders where the time went, and someone suddenly wonders aloud why we need a whistle. We want a company where people find a better way, every day, of doing things; and where by shaping their own work experience, they make their lives better and your company best. Far fetched? Fuzzy? Soft? Naive? Not a bit. This is the type of liberated, involved, excited, boundary-less culture that is present in successful start-up enterprises. It is unheard of in an institution our size, but we want it, and we are determined we will have it.”
What’s interesting about this passage? It’s that when he talked about GE’s desired “future state,” it was all about emotion, not quantifiable metrics.
He talked about the way people should feel, and the culture itself rather than saying, “we want to deliver more shareholder value,” or “we want to be a market leader in X, Y, and Z.”
While Welch was well known for his results and performance-driven approach to leadership – he didn’t achieve wild success through data alone but by tapping into people’s emotions.
The thing is, people intuitively GET feelings, far more than they understand data and numbers, simply because it’s how we evolved. Numbers were only invented a few thousand years ago (when we were pretty much the same genetically as we are today). Whereas feelings go back millions of years (long before homo sapiens arrived on the scene).
I just sprained my ankle. I am in pain.
She loves me. I am ecstatic.
She is leaving me for another caveman. I am so sad.
I’ve not eaten in three days. I am angry.
I have just lost social status. I am embarrassed and vengeful.
Jack Welsh knew what a lot of us (but not everyone) considers obvious today: A business with a great culture (which runs at the emotional level) can do anything it wants. A poor one finds tying its own shoelaces difficult.
That’s because as renowned psychologist and Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman’s, work shows, people don’t operate on the level of facts, but on the level of feelings.
So if you’re trying to sell a vision to your people, a “future state,” as it were, you’re probably going to have much better luck if you connect it back to how you want people to FEEL. Not just what you want them to know or do.
At the end of the day, great leadership is emotional and so are great cultures.