Wil Davis on Identifying, Building, and Rallying Others Around Your “Noble Why”

1,000 Stories


Joe Mills: What shared experiences motivate today’s business leaders to keep growing, and how have their unique stories impacted the way they enable others to do the same? I’m Joe Mills, and I’m Reid Morris, and we’re investigating what and who it takes to build companies that foster growth in people and business.

Then we’re sharing those stories with you. This is 1,000 Stories, an original show from Element Three.

Reid Morris: So coming out of our conversation with. Can you tell me a little bit about, you know, where you see that driving us for some, for some future conversations? Cuz I know that he gave us a little bit of direction on some good people

Joe Mills: that we can go talk to.

Yeah, I mean we, I think the piece that is gonna be interesting to pull on, to add to what we’ve already talked about the most is actually expanding beyond yourself and how you use community to grow. When I asked him like, where do you start with that? He’s like, Well get a community that can hold you accountable and we’ll give you a feedback loop.

Mm-hmm. , and it’s like, oh, nobody else has mentioned that. With that in mind, this next conversation with Wil I want to take in that community route and like how do you. Ensure that the community you’re building can be a good feedback loop. Because if they’re giving you, if they’re like a bad mirror mm-hmm.

they’re not gonna give you good feedback, right? You might get a quick feedback loop, but it won’t be effective. So how do we build that community and how do you build like team. Feedback loops, I guess maybe is the premise.

Reid Morris: So we’ll obviously get more context in in the episode itself, but could you give the audience a little bit of a preview of, of who Wil is and, and sort of a little bit of his background and story?

Joe Mills: Yeah, sure. Wil was the founder and leader of Ontario Systems, a really successful software company here in town, and now he runs a company called Noble, Why, which is his individual consulting effort to help teams develop a purpose and to align. The purpose they have as an individual with the purpose the organization has.

And he talks about the need for overlap between what gets you out of bed every day, what makes you drive forward, and the company that you are building and or working for. So when you hire people, when you build your team, If you can’t find that overlap position easily, it’s probably not going to be a good fit.

Mm-hmm. from like a person standpoint. And if you can’t identify it, you’re never able to tell if it’s gonna be a good fit. So he talks a lot about that idea of building like full team integration with your purpose. And I, I do think that’s something that I want to explore. It’s like how do you go find your purpose?

Like you hear it set all the time, but it’s so.

Reid Morris: It’s really interesting too that we’re almost circling back to the origin of this. Mm-hmm. , if we think back to the early part of, of this season, talking with Tiffany around moving from individual growth and development, individual impact to the community around you too, with the broader community.

Right. And we’re almost starting to do that in terms of the conversations we’re having in the podcast as a whole. Oh, that’s interesting. Which is fascinating. Also a parallel going into this conversation of talking. The noble why, right? We, as an organization being Element Three, do a lot of that work with companies as well in terms of helping uncover their purpose.

When we talk about things like culture conscious leaders and use those words, we really care a lot about people who have a why have a purpose behind what they do. So it’s just really interesting to see all these parallels come through of our world. These conversations that we’re having with our guests sort of come into the culmination of this, the latter stage of season one.

It’s been kind of interesting to see. I’m really excited.

Joe Mills: All right. Well, Wil, thanks for hopping on with us, man. We’re excited to have you on the show. Thank you so much. My privilege. How do you describe what you do for people

Wil Davis: now? Organizational effectiveness consulting. Uh, it often leads to strategic planning and strategic planning engagements, but for me, getting the philosophical motivational.

Foundation in place. First is the most important, and then to get to a common definition of, in, in that context of what do we mean by leadership? What do we really mean by accountability? It’s gotta be more than you’re fired. Mm-hmm. , Uh, what do we mean by being a good steward? What do we mean by having integrity?

What do those words operationalize? , but I enjoy working with leadership teams that are either in a, a season of transition or we have a new leadership team coming into a company that’s perhaps established but has maybe lost its way a bit. And, uh, so organizational effectiveness, consulting around this idea of personal purpose and corporate purpose, which I call your noble.

Why, What is your real purpose for being alive personally? How’s that translated into what you’re doing every day? Yeah.

Joe Mills: I, I love that I read a little bit on your website, and one part that really resonated with me was, I think the line you wrote was, I woke up and I was like, Is this it? Am I supposed to work like this in this format for the next 40 years?

Can, can you just talk about that experience for a second? Cause I’d love to hear you tell it like I read it, but I’d love to hear you tell it. .

Wil Davis: Um, I think it falls under the category of adulting, and I think adulting is hard, but I don’t think anybody tells you that until you start to adult. And so I started to adult and the first thing I did, my wi, my wife and I were high school sweethearts and uh, she decided to go to Purdue.

I went to Ball State. That’s a two hour drive, no matter how fast you try to go. And I was driving it after I got off of the job on Friday nights and coming back on Sunday. So I was, I told her after the first semester of our freshman year, I said, Look, either we’re gonna break up or we’re gonna get married because I’m gonna kill myself driving back and forth across the state when I’m, or I might die first.

It’s like, Oh my goodness. So we began adulting young and I got outta school as fast as I could. Wasn’t thinking about, I wonder what this is gonna lead to. I just got out And, um, that impetus to be the provider and to create the household that we wanted to in our idealized mind at the ripe old age of 19, um, we, like, I went to work and in my first job, I worked for a great company and they were, they gave me lots of opportunities and after about 18 months I felt like I had kind of mastered the material if you were taking a class.

And then I was in the application area and it was like, Wow. Most people in the, this organization, even though I don’t have the title or the money, uh, they actually. Run most of their problems through me because I had a, again, it was not my doing, but I was given a wonderful, wonderful job. So I began looking for another opportunity.

Joe Mills: That is an interesting, like dichotomy of, of like my, my logical mind doesn’t go there, so take me inside of that decision making point.

Wil Davis: Okay. I was working at a bank and banks, uh, typically are slow to pay their entry level. Well, regardless of what their contribution is, and I was an entry level person. Um, and so I was very anxious to get compensated better.

My, my first boss who was, you knows, kinda like a dad and the more you are farther away from him, the more you realize what a genius he was. But when you were there, it was like, darn, that’s frustrating. Uh, but he told me this truth, you can’t get 10 years of experience in less than 10. And in an industry that really values experience like banking, financial services, uh, that was a key component to being considered for more higher compensated jobs.

And so it was, it was the, the fundamental question that we’re gonna come back to, I, since later in this, this cast will be, Why are you working? And so the first answer is to make money and to make money. Chief, whatever you think is reasonable for your, your standard of living. And so I had tested that one that turned out not to be very fulfilling and I thought, well, maybe more money would fix it.

So I began looking for another job and I was very fortunate then to get the job at the General Motors. So what, how old were you at that point? 20. I started with the bank, 21, 24. Okay. So

Joe Mills: it was still pretty young, like Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So you go to General Motors and you, you’re at this point, you’re thinking to yourself, My motivation to work is to.

Exactly for my lifestyle and my wife’s lifestyle, our family’s lifestyle like that I’m providing for that. So I’m gonna find more money to go do that better and that will fulfill me.

Wil Davis: So, so let, let me be clear at the outset, even as we get into different ideas later, that sometimes working for the provision of your family, there’ll be a lot of folks who.

Do that. Mm-hmm. and that’s actually noble. Yeah. To, to stay engaged, to be willing to sacrifice personally for the benefit of others. Tho those are noble motivations. So I don’t want to, in any way discount those who find themselves in that position, but do it knowingly for that reason. Um, but when, if you do it unknowingly for that reason, I want, I want to challenge you.

I want to challenge us to think about. as I came to the conclusion, is this all there is? Mm-hmm. , is this what I’m supposed is what I’m supposed to do? I have a personal responsibility for what happens to my life and how I spend my time, my talent, and my resources in my life. That’s my responsibility. Is that what I’m supposed to be done with it?

Mm-hmm. and, um, so the, the three years General Motors were spectacular by the way. They, I, I was, There was just a time when many micro computers were just becoming stable enough to be. Tough environments. Mm. So we had the privilege of ushering them into the manufacturing floor in our division. Uh, and the guy who became my business partner was actually the head of a task force on computers and man manufacturing.

And so he and I did a lot of this automation work together. And what we were trying to do at our why at that time was to improve the quality of a life of somebody who. Is on a assembly line or somebody who’s doing dull routine, monotonous, like counting parts. How could we count parts more effectively?

And, and yet they have a lot of parts to count. It’s really important. Um, so how can we do that more effectively and better? And that’s what we, we were tasked with doing. And the, the corporate culture at the time was not all that healthy in my mind. And I’m a people person, but I found myself as a, I.

Programmer systems analyst at the time, I’m working in a eight by eight room with just me and my computer, , and it’s like no interaction with other humans just being the keyboard and it’s like, You know, part of me was dying on the inside and I sensed it. I wasn’t sure what to do about it, but flying back with my, the guy who I was working with on a plane one night from, from a visiting other divisions talk about the same topic.

How do you use computers to make manufacturing more efficient, more effective, and safer? I said to him, I said, Ron, if other people will pay us, The same work that they’ll pay us to do. Surely we could start a company of our own. We wouldn’t have to work in that stultifying, bureaucratic, hierarchical environment.

And he said that’s a reasonable idea, but we do have a huge hurdle to get over. I said, Really? What’s that? He said, Our wives , who had become accustomed to a paycheck. Yeah. And benefits, things like that. Yeah. So that, that was the germinating frustration and, and reason for starting the business.

Joe Mills: Yeah. So that, that became where Ontario Systems

Wil Davis: came from.

It is, yeah. That was the germinating idea for it. So how’d you get over

Joe Mills: that, that hurdle of your wives? The, the comfortable paycheck and I, I imagine even internally, your own comfort and sensibility of like value and worth when you were able to provide that.

Wil Davis: Well, um, as I suppose I’m endlessly arrogant, but I, I always thought if I got, could get a job doing this as a kind of undated skill set at the time.

Very common today. If I can, if I had to, worst case scenario, I go back and work for somebody else again and draw a paycheck. I can do that. But unless I try this, I’ll never know if we can do this. Mm. So we began the process of figuring out what to do. We, we went to our wives and, uh, my wife, she had heard me have wanderlust kind of before about vocational things to start a Wendy’s franchise.

I says, What do you know about flipping hamburgers? I said, I like to eat ’em. Does that matter? I like that. Back then we had young children too, just started our family and seemed to me like that everybody who sold children’s shoes tos shoes should have been billionaires because of the exorbitant price I felt for what you pay for kids’ shoes and little tiny things cost as much as adult shoes.

I thought, Well that’s, that’s insane, but that’s business. You could probably make some money out. Let’s try it. And she said the same thing. What do you know about that? And then I said, Well, here’s an idea, Ron and I wanna start a software. We weren’t sure what exactly part of software wanna start a software company.

And she thought about for a at least two or three seconds and then she said, Oh, that’s a really good idea. You guys oughta try that. Did you hear me correctly? Dear, I’m gonna quit. We called it Generous Motors because the benefits were so great. Yeah, I’m gonna quit Generous Motors. We’re not gonna have a stable paycheck, we’re gonna have to buy insurance.

Is that okay? Yeah, I think you guys should give that a try. Let’s see if we can make it work. So we were able to, uh, pay ourselves what we thought we should be paid and, and to provide benefits that were commensurate with what we had. Can be the same of course, but, uh, very good for a two person firm. . Yeah.

And, uh, opened up shopping the garage in a way we went. I wanna talk about your wife a

Joe Mills: little bit in that moment. Um, it’s cliche to talk about we built it together and all these, you know, of course you do, but I’m just curious. What was your experience like with, in that environment where you like, all right, from the outside, one of the worst?

I like times to start a business in like your family life. You know, you’ve got young kids, you’re, um, was your wife stay at home at that point? She was, yeah. So she’s, so you have, you’re rely on one paycheck, you have benefits, you’ve got all these things that are adding complexity to your life. Not to mention.

Just the, the sheer like time, quality of it, of, of, all right, I’m gonna start a business, which means I don’t really turn off the clock, but I also have a family. I’m gonna take care, like I wanna be around with, I want to experience what was, was it almost like permission when she was like, I think you should do that.

Wil Davis: It’s definitely, I, for the nature of your questions, I can tell you’ve been on the entrepreneurial journey yourself. Yeah, I did it once. and, yeah, all those things are real considerations. But, um, again, I felt this responsibility to the family as much as myself to, to make sure that they were comfortable with it cuz they knew it was gonna require sacrifices, additional sacrifices, and they needed to be on board with it.

Mm-hmm. , I think she was ready to get her husband back, number one. I think the part of me that was shrinking on the vine was, uh, significant to her, uh, gratefully so, and. Also think she’s probably an intuitively better business person than I am anyway, so, mm-hmm. , uh, if intuition’s all we had to go on about business.

She doesn’t really like programming. She doesn’t like that part of it, the technical side of it. And I didn’t know I did either. But once I got into it, I figured out, oh my gosh, this is like art. You know, a thing of beauty is a joy forever to the artist . Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so when you get a program to actually run and it worked and it does what it’s supposed to do and it saves people time, it’s like, Oh, that feels really good.

So she, she didn’t understand that side of it, but she underst. The idea that this is, this probably has a market around it. None of us did any real market research at the time. We felt like we were under the cusp with something new. I mean, this is the kind of decision that I don’t think you should make on your own.

I think it’s, uh, you need a spouse. I think you ought to figure out how. Feels to you spiritually, What, what’s your, what’s your sense of your created purpose? Those things may be too heavy and, And at 26, I’m sure I didn’t figure it out totally right, but at 26, we both resigned from General Motors on the same day, gave up those paychecks and the benefits, and we walked into a different office in our homes on the next Monday, and that’s how.

Made the trans instantaneous transition, if you will. But, but good. We wouldn’t have done it without our spouses. Uh, Ron’s wife was very supportive. I think especially once she found out that Cindy was supportive, she felt good. , okay. I’m not the only one that thinks this is nuts, but it’s okay. We can do it.

Um, but we both acknowledged the risk and I think we were, we in our minds, by the grace of God, we didn’t have to. The piper to prove otherwise, but in our minds, uh, we were ready for that risk if it didn’t work out. Worst case scenario, like I said, we go back to work. Mm-hmm. . It’s okay.

Joe Mills: You mentioned the spiritual side of it at, at 26.

Did you do that searching in the process of, of launching the business, or is that a hindsight

Wil Davis: moment? That’s a, that’s a great question. I think this is how it more normally is. I think we do that kind of our whole lives. We have this, we have these built in idea. Uh, both from what works in our culture and what doesn’t work in our culture, that, uh, there must be something about work that is, that has more redemptive value for us as individuals than we sometimes give it credit for.

And so I, I’ve come to conclusion again, that’s what Noble Why is about. I’ve come to conclusion that we’re all born with a purpose and that purpose. Is often expressed in what we do in our work day to day. Now, how do you connect the personal side to the corporate need? You know, corporations are living entities also.

Mm-hmm. , just that the air they breathe is called Profit cash flow. And you have to have enough for the organization organism to breathe. So we don’t discount that. Interestingly, Ron and I both had a fair amount of accounting in our backgrounds, and so we were able. Kind of monitor that side of things from the start and never really got so far behind on the books that we didn’t know where we were.

Mm-hmm. , uh, I think a lot of folks starting out discount that side of it. Well, I can hire that or whatever, and you, you can, but you lose some of the texture of the business if you get away from all the invoices on all the, all the ones you, the invoices you pay, the invoices you create, how you actually bill.

What are those? What creates value for a customer? How should a customer react to that? Those are really important relational things for building a long-term business, and so we were fortunate to have a background that prejudice for doing that. Anyway,

Joe Mills: when you launched it, did you have the idea in your head that out of the way that I expressed my purpose is going to be through what I do?

Did you already have that connection

Wil Davis: made? I did. And so my dad is a pastor and he talked about being called into his work. Little side story here. You know, at the, at the height of his career, after spending lots and lots of years and lots of education and being a really smart guy, uh, willing to work seven by 24, a lot of people think pastors and preachers only work one hour a week, and it turns out they’re on call seven by 24.

And, uh, I remember two vacations we took growing up because he always had to be back in case somebody died or there was a, somebody really, really sick. But anyway, all that to say he didn’t begrudges. He made the ma, the maximum he made started to say was $14,000 a year. A year. He raised a family of five on that, but his satisfaction in life wasn’t really tied to those kinds of things and watching him grow up and thinking for myself, I wonder what I’m supposed to.

One thing I wasn’t supposed to do, I’m pretty sure was be a pastoral minister, . I just, I’m not wired the way he was. And um, so finding someplace, right, something could come out of me. And initially I thought it was programming that was an art to me, and I thought it became my thing of beauty. That was a joy forever.

Programs that were worked and were beneficial could harness the power of machines to do the mundane labor that none of us really wanted to do. And I thought that was a big part. I still think that was part of the corporate purpose, but I came to understand later on as, as we, as the company got some size, I came to believe that it was actually about creating an environment where every person in the company could connect to that could have their own.

Curve and their satisfaction wouldn’t be in the same types of things that mine would be in, but they’d find a way to have satisfaction their work. My job as a leader then was to connect the dots to help say, this is what we do. How does what we do affect? Compare to what you do, How does what you do? Lift up what we do and just help everybody connect the dots all.

And that’s where

Joe Mills: what you do now led into, right?

Wil Davis: And yeah, so with that experience, when I left the company and felt like maybe some of those lessons that we had to experience and learn along the way would be helpful to other people, um, I got a call from a guy who was. He called it to be the head of a new several hundred million dollar a year company, National in Scope, had a leadership team of nine people, and he was the fourth CEO they’d had in four years.

And he called me, he says, Hey, I’m trying to figure out why these people would follow me. So I asked him, Why? Why should they, What’s in it for them? What’s the whiff them? He said, What do you mean? And you know, Well, you. What do they get out of it? Oh, well, we, we have a great benefit plan live. We pay for competitive salaries.

I mean, no, I mean, I mean, I mean the me that, that goes home and has to not kick the cat and to, to be a dad and to be a husband and or to be a wife. What about that? Me? I don’t know. I’m meant to think about that and out that’s did that experience and the questions that we asked back and forth to help him get to the place where he understood his.

He invited me to come in and help the company figure out what the company’s purpose is. Here’s another interesting little corollary to my idea that every person has a created purpose. If it’s true, I think it is, that every person does. What do you think the chances are that a group of people together and brought together strictly by their own machination that they could do it on their own or dispose?

They have actually a higher calling. What if we’re all called together for a purpose? And we began to express our work in terms of that purpose, and we began to hire according to that purpose, and we began to hold annual performance evaluations on the basis of are we achieving our purpose? And how are we achieving?

Is your role achieving the purpose that we needed to achieve to fulfill the role of the company? And it just changes everything. When you begin to formalize those processes, now you have what I call leverage . Cause now you can, it’s repeatable and you have a track record and you begin to build on it. So, you know, we’re, we’re an intellectual property business, obviously.

Again, another side thesis of mine is every business is actually an intellectual property business. We build on the talent, skills and intellect knowledge base of our people. Being intentional about the kind of knowledge base that people wanna create on their own. If they’re given to their own device, left their own device, what would they create on their own?

Uh, if that’s not kind of similar to what you want ’em to create for you, the chances are it’s gonna take a lot of energy for them and it won’t be sustainable for them to create, keep creating at their highest level. You’re familiar with the, the Gallop pole? I think. Gosh, from maybe 2013 or so where they, they survey and it’s been validated every year since of employee engagement.

How many, what percent of your people are actually engaged, you know, and two thirds of the American workforce is either disengaged or actively disengaged. Like they’re working against you. Yeah. In the work. But you come together as a team every day. How do you get them back together? How do you begin to pull together to accomplish the common good?

Joe Mills: So I grew up playing sports, played soccer in college, and one of the things that I’ve always found magical about sports is just the microcosm of life element of it. It’s like you get to watch a whole life happen in two hours. Absolutely. And the thing you’re. Around getting everybody moving in the same direction, aligned to the same purpose, not actively working against you, really exists in that world as well.

And you can watch teams that are significantly better than the sum of their parts, like individually. Absolutely. They might lack an MVP level player for the league, but they achieve at an incredible rate. And I, I felt like every time I made a step forward in sports from a level standpoint, . What happened was you have a few more egos in the room.

You have a few more people who are used to getting it their way. And the coach’s job became getting all of those people to put aside their own like preferences or the way they imagined it happening and getting them actually bought in. Not just acting like they’re brought, but actually bought into like the direction of the group.

And I watched that happen with my college team. So I played at NC State ACC Soccer program. , the difference between my sophomore and junior year and my senior year. Senior year was disaster. Sophomore and junior year were really good. And I think the difference in those two is that our sophomore and junior year teams were so tight knit.

We sometimes made a joke that we were too close. Yeah. Like we would do silly things for one another because we were mad that somebody would pick on one of our, one of our own . And then senior year it was just like riffs everywhere. It was just like too many new people not managed well. At from, from the top.

Not managed well at the, at the people level either in terms of like us in the locker room. Mm-hmm. and that even though the talent level was different, but it wasn’t as different as the result level was. It’s really interesting. I never really connected that dot before until you started talking about like the actively working against, I don’t think people wake up and they go, I’m gonna sabotage my business today.

I agree, but they, they do it subconsciously cuz they’re unhappy or unfulfilled. Like why do you think

Wil Davis: that happens? Well, I think I, if I can extend your analogy, I think that, That many egos in the room that the temptation is to go after my purpose and at the expense of your purpose or our purpose, uh, and especially in college.

College is not like a career college is a increasing of less than four year commitment, especially for athletes, um, and for coaches too. So the job of a coach is very interesting and very difficult. I think it’d be just brutally hard to be a coach. And at the college level in any sport right now, the sheer amount of turnover, it killings.

But I love the analogy, play it forward into the professional world and maybe the first coach who was known for being more of a shrink than a coach Phil Jackson during the Bulls dynasty era. But we have lots of examples of people who are even in current coaching who are, their real role is to be the mediator, the shrink, the guy.

Melds those disparate egos and purposes into one and gets them to subse. To the larger purpose. So the interesting things that happen as a result of a coach who’s effective at doing that is you’ll see superstar players who say, Coach, don’t gimme a raise this year. Spread it out on the new guys. We need a better role player in this area, but we can’t afford ’em.

So take it that way from me. I, I know I’ll get it someplace else, you know, But take it from me. What happened? They were sacrificing for the. To make sure that, that somebody would argue, Well, they’re not really sacrificing. They’re gonna be better as a team. Therefore, he gets more notoriety, more. But people don’t, actually, one of the things that points out is people don’t ultimately work just for money.

Mm-hmm. . Now, I have a hard time getting a lot of people to believe that, because again, on the lower end of the Maslow’s hierarchy, it’s such an important. Element to have in order to sustain that first level. But as you climb that hierarchy, it becomes not even tertiary. I mean, it, it’s surprising how federal research is conclusive in that area.

People really don’t work for money. You can have. And in today’s in market, especially if you’re not satisfied with the work environment, you can go someplace else and make the same money. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Money’s not the differentiator. And if you use it as a differentiator, you realize you’re in a bidding war.

Mm-hmm. , and that’s very difficult to manage costs with. So, um, there must be something else. And, and you, you, I don’t think you can manufacture this purpose thing. And this coaching thing. But what I do is coach the coaches on how to be aware of and create and deliver on the group purpose by tapping into the individual purposes.

So I called it employee engagement because that’s kind of a hot term in the HR world. So employee engagement measurements are all over the map. But if you had a company that had 80% employee engagement, would you be a rock? Well, Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. That’s very unusual. If, if really, if all businesses really in seem, we’re in a similar industry, if our business differentiates itself from your business in that same industry by what our investment span, or it’s probably by the intellectual capital of our people at the end of.

So how do you maximize that? Mm-hmm. , how do you get the most out of each individual, each dollar that you spend? Well, you know, focus on that. You focus on purpose. And if we can engage the purpose now, then I’ve struggled with this even as a manager, you know, there are things that happen that require us to stay and work around the clock.

Now what have I just done? I’ve disrupted the entire family life. No dinner with the kids, No homework. You’re probably gonna give up several sporting events, several plays, whatever that’s going on in the, So you’re going to interrupt that for a long period of time. What gives you the right Mr. Employer to ask people to give up those more sacred things just for money If you think you can buy that?

I think that’s a poverty of thought. Mm. I think you, I think we have to be really sensitive to that and, and therefore really appreci. People are willing to sacrifice, but I think people are willing to sacrifice if they know what the purpose is. What, what good is this doing in the world? It is why young men sign up to go to war.

Mm-hmm. to give their life. Why is that? Lousy. Pay horrible working conditions because they believe in the cause, and if any nation fails to make that point for their generat. Uh, they’ll have a hard time getting recruits.

Joe Mills: Um, I wanna say a thing that might be a little bit out there. Do you feel like sometimes company purpose feels fake?

Wil Davis: I just said a moment ago, this has to be authentic. Yeah. And of course it can. And if, and if it is, what’s the. You come across as well. Manipulative. Yeah. It

Joe Mills: just feels like you’re saying it cuz it’s the like we should have a purpose. Yeah. And I feel like I actually really appreciate the fact that you bring up like people work for money because I think it’s very like trendy.

No obvious to, to say like, well it’s not about the money and like true on a level, it’s. , but let’s not like get beside the fact that if people could make their same salary and just like do whatever they wanted all day long, many would choose to do so.

Wil Davis: Yeah. I, I, the kind of the next level down of work that I, I do with people is as I work with the HR team, I say, you know, the way you compensate people, your compensation philosophy and the actual amounts you.

Those need to be understood by your people. Keep in mind your people judge your integrity based on how you pay them. Mm. They do not just, if I pay them, if there’s a paycheck there every two weeks, when I said there would be no, no, it’s much more than that. They’ll ultimately look at, what did you pay me?

Did you pay me what the competitor would’ve paid me? Did you pay me a commensurate market wage? And you got to know that data and you gotta be transparent. Where do you intend to pay on that scale? Because they judge your integrity based on that. And so it’s super important and there’s so much of the fabric of that winds us together.

That’s, it’s all based on integrity at the end of the day, in my view. Um, but uh, but that’s just one of the many things that has to be right. And if you pay them off the scale, but you give them zero benefits, You think that’ll work? Or,

Joe Mills: and even, I imagine when you say benefits, you mean like total reward?

Not just like exactly what is the insurance, but rather Thank you. Yeah. I pay them off the scale, but then I expect ’em to work 80 hour weeks every week and they never get plays, sporting events, dinner at home with their families. It, it, it starts to like really imbalance. Right. We

Wil Davis: have some just in my home community that have that reputation.

They, they pay you well, but you, you sacrificed your whole life. Mm-hmm. and. They are accused of manipulating the difference between salaried and salaried exempt, you know, people for that purpose. And so they say don’t accept a promotion. The word promotion means moving forward. Pro promotion. Don’t accept a promotion there because that’s just their way of locking you in and not paying you for the overtime.

Those are disingenuous. It’s obvious, right? And. At the end of the day, your employee team is either your best recruiting source or your worst enemy, . And so, uh, what, what I, I think turnover rates are really important. Long term net promoter score. Yeah. Would they refer somebody to you? And I think those are really important.

And it explains all the old saws that you hear. People don’t quit on companies, they quit on leaders. What happened? They, they quit trusting them. They quit believing in them, and so they don’t believe they can accomplish their why, their purpose, following your why, right? They don’t trust that you have their best interests at heart.

So serving other people’s best interests in the long term for customers, for our employees, that’s always been a core. Value for us serving their best interests in the long term, uh, making sure that we’re doing what we can. That’s right, and absolutely right. And either they trust that or they don’t. If they trust it, they are partners.

And that’s what we really want. This

Joe Mills: is a little bit tactical, but like how do you start finding purpose in, in truth, like so that when you put one up on the wall or you write it on your website, you show it to your employee, you put it your employee handbook, it doesn’t feel. Esoteric and, and fake pie in the sky.

It feels very authentic. How do you get there?

Wil Davis: Part of the reason I get into this is because in the early days of our company, when we were hiring people, we found out that I had the best batting average on hiring good, good candidates for the jobs that we had. And when we looked back at it, we said, What, what’s the difference between the way he hires and the way they.

We’re pretty egalitarian, which is a partnership. And so we let the people who had the responsibility for that job area have a lot of input into it, and we still, we still did, but at the end of the day, I became the final interview for every person that came into the company until we had almost 200 people.

Uh, it took too much time, but the difference was the way I interviewed. I mean, I, I, I didn’t pay attention. Do you have the right technical skills? Do you have the right toolbox in your intellectual property already to start your job? Or do we need to remediate that? We need to know about that up front.

Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t get the job. We need to know about that up front. So we, they’d already done that assessment by the time I get to ’em. It’s like, so what did you do when you were a kid for fun, the after you quit? Ball with your brother. It was a good creative afternoon for y’all. Did you like to do dinner parties for the neighborhood friends or did you, What?

What was your thing? What, How’d you do that? And I just let ’em tell me. And there will normally be some connection between what they love to do and what they gravitated toward. Then, then and, um, the work that we’re asking to do that the more experience we have as leaders, the more we’re able to map.

Experiences into, Yeah, it’s a lot like when you do this, it’s a lot like when you do that problem solving. There’s problem solving skills involved in almost all childhood play. And as a software developer and as a software support person, problem solving skills are a premium. So we listen to the problem stories of children playing with each other and playing a game that they liked, and then we’d assess.

Oh yeah. Cause we owe you some feedback. Now I’ve heard your a little bit, I know a little you a little bit better. I was doing this level of aptitude almost. Uh, what do you love to do and what, what, what motivates you inherently. And you know, if I’d got it wrong, I, I’d give ’em a chance to correct me. It says, what I’m hearing is this, is that correct?

And how, and so that maps into what we do, what we’re asking you to do here. I think it’s a great. Are you willing or, Well, gosh, we need to talk about that. I, I wanna think about that a little bit. Cause you may have abilities in areas that we hadn’t thought about actually using, but we love you as a candidate.

Let’s figure it out, or, Wow, this is really interesting. Thanks. But we’ll be back with you if we were, if we weren’t thanks, but No thanks. Yeah. So, uh, hopefully we did a better job of interviewing. That’s how I got into. This position of guiding the culture of how you hire people and documenting that was really important.

So as a hiring manager, I have to know what the purpose is so I can hire people who I think I. Can help find satisfaction in fulfilling that purpose. So that’s number one. You have responsibility to yourself and to the company to know what the purpose is. Do, do you start

Joe Mills: asking when you start to make your own purpose, do you have people start at what did you love as a kid?

Is that like the first question? I

Wil Davis: do not. Okay. Where do you start? Yeah. Using a survey instrument that I picked up from a gal named Lori Beth Jones, who wrote a book called The Path and thought about helping people figure out. To do with their life. And, uh, she has a series. The first step is to actually figure out, as an adult, what are the action verbs that attract you?

So I give them a list of 150. They go through, and by success of approximation, they circle the ones that when they read it, they, Oh, that energizes me. They go back through and they cross. That’s a lot like that one. And this one actually has more in. So by a degree of successful approximation, you can come to three action groups.

That’s actually the first step. Enlivens you when you think about doing it. So that’s, it’s subjective, but I find most people are able to do that pretty quickly. The hard part is figuring out what you’re passionate about in your life. What have you gotten feedback, the injustice that you like to see corrected the most often?

The thing that you always stand up for. What are the things that really matter to. And then the last thing is, and for whom do you like to do that? It’s like almost like a target market, if you will encourage, nurture, and facilitate with three action verbs that resonated with me. Personal integrity. I integration, integrate that into your whole life.

How do you make this? You don’t wanna be one person at work and one person. Those are two values that I hold as core. Who you do that for? Anybody that I’ve come in contact with. Really? All my communities. Communities. Anybody you’ve had contact with. That’s how mine distilled, but it’s not as overwhelming as it seems within an hour or two.

Most people are able to get through this helpful document and come up with one on their own that describe. Them to tee. And what’s cool about it, Joe, I think, is that it unites all of life. I can use that for the way I parent now, the way I grandparent, you know, encourage, nurture, and facilitate what personal growth and integrity integration of your life for.

These new parts of my community, my, my grandkids, kids and grandkids, uh, it could be for all your social organizations, your, uh, your rotary club, your church, your synagogue, wherever you’re engaged in the community. Why are you doing it? If you like it, chances are it fulfills part of your personal mission statement.

And then why do you do it at work? Well, that becomes really important. So that’s the personal side of it. But the getting to the corporate side, I use a lot of Jim Collins’ work. I like, Yeah, we’re

Joe Mills: like, he’s like our godfather. .

Wil Davis: Well, I’m a dev. I, I admit. And, uh, you know, Built To Last is just a fantastic book on philosophy.

So, The corporate mission statement thing and the values. So we derive, we have a process where we derive what, what bubbles up from them. I don’t think you can, the authenticity piece of it, you can’t give these to people and say, Well, I like these words. Let’s, Yeah, no, that’s just who we are. The

Joe Mills: thing in my head that I keep seeing is like sort of Venn diagram que.

Ideas where you have like the executive, the leadership team, which is really like the, the core of the organization where this group goes, it will direct the organization and they’re all individual circles. And then the overlapping parts of the executive team become the organizational purpose. And then as you hire people to join that, they need to overlap with that purpose in some

Wil Davis: capacity.

Yeah, I actually use Venn diagrams to describe this is the corporate purpose. How much of you overlaps with that? Depends on how engaged you will be. So we can predict employee engagement based on how much of their personal why intersects with the corporate why in their current role. Mm-hmm. and I use that as a kind of the beginning thought starter then as a group, because the group has to, as you just said, very well, the group has to kinda.

Bubble this up has to come to agreement on it. Cause they will become the chief apologist for it. I’m talking to a marketing firm. So you know, when you take a marketing campaign, a new one to the world, you don’t start with the world, you start with your people, right? It comes from the people to your people.

Then it goes. To the world because that’s who people call in and talk to. I got a buddy in support. What do you think about this? Is this nonsense? Is this just manipulation? Is this authentic? Mm-hmm. ? Are they really like that? Um, so it’s a strong process because it, I think only strongly because it insists that it comes from the existing company and its history and its personnel and it is.

By the whole team. It’s not something any one person hands down, you’ve heard of CEOs who go into a sequestered isolation for a while and they come up with a new strategic plan. Mm-hmm. . What’s wrong with that? The people dunno anything about it. It may or may not be what they think you’re, they’re doing.

And what happens often in those cases is, uh, you. I’ve heard this in other organizations. I was here when they did this last time. I’ll be here when they do it again. This won’t stick either. Mm. There’s a great deal of skepticism around plans developed that way. Yeah, justifiably probably so. I, I maintain the, the American workforce really only has one major problem and that is that it, for the most part has forgotten it’s, and they don’t really believe that the company cares for the individual why.

Mm-hmm. , And that’s our job as leaders, to make sure that it is an authentic purpose that makes sense to us, and that we can help other people latch onto with their gift, talents and abilities, whatever they are.

Joe Mills: I think one of the pictures that’s left in my head, as we’ve discussed today as we wrap up, is this idea.

All right. Each individual is born with a purpose, and when you bring people together, they just create an organization that’s a living, breathing thing made up of them that now has a purpose. And if there’s a huge disconnect or really any disconnect between the individuals who make up the organization and the stated purpose of the organization, the amount of energy behind it will suffer.

And I think it’s really like, Message people to think about and the importance of getting authentic. And, and also when you’re a, So for, we talked a lot about how leaders need to build that, but also as an individual contributor to a company, when you’re out looking for a job and you, you made the point of like the money, you can find the money anywhere.

Like find the place that aligns with what you believe in and that is where you will find fulfill. And engagement. And

Wil Davis: advancement. Absolutely. Great summary statement. Thank

Joe Mills: you. Thank you. Thanks so much for coming on Wil we

Wil Davis: appreciate it. My thrill.

Reid Morris: Okay Joe, so walk me through your conversation with Wil.


Joe Mills: one thing I thought that was interesting with Wil was that I appreciated his nod toward like there are also realities here of like money will play a part in your work decision. That’s okay. You know, like I, I’ve been feeling this way for a few weeks, a couple events I went to, things that I’ve just heard people speak about, podcasts I’ve consumed where I’m like, Man, we are starting to all like look at each other and nod a lot.

Like, yes, it’s so great to have a purpose and we’re forgetting. That there’s also an underlying need, necessity to make enough money to support the lifestyle that you both want and need to do. Yeah. So like for any number of reasons. You just had a kid, you had an unexpected kid, you had twins instead of one, you got married when you didn’t know, you were like gonna fall in love with somebody.

You moved across the country unexpectedly to be closer to family. One of your parents is sick, like you got sick. There’s so many reasons that you might. A different financial need than you had in the past. Mm-hmm. . And I feel like a lot of times when we talk about like purpose and why and all these things, we get very esoteric and very away from the realities of life.

And so one thing I just appreciated about Wil that, that he called out was like, Yes, I believe there is a purpose to each person. That you should be on the world to do and you should be living into that and your work is going to be a major part of that experience. And also your work needs to provide for you financially or you will not find it.

Reid Morris: Yeah, it, it’s interesting both in this conversation and the others that we’ve had that. . It’s not about balance in the sense of work life balance, but balance in sort of your understanding of these different concepts. Mm-hmm. . Okay, So stick with me here. If we think about, let’s say, our conversation with Kevin Bailey, right?

And we both came to this realization over the course of that conversation of what we are really on the extreme end. Dopamine and that really the right balance you wanna seek. There is this dopamine, serotonin, like ambition, goal, orientation with satisfaction and that kind of thing, right? Same thing with let’s go to company purpose, right?

There’s this point where you can just solely think about purpose, but that then becomes a little bit BS for people in, let’s say the hiring process. Mm-hmm. and, and talent, you know, talent acquisition in that. Yes, they care about purpose, but they care about a paycheck. And I feel like you could play that idea out across a lot of the conversations that we’ve had around like, yeah, it’s not about being on the extreme end of any of these mindsets using any of these tools to, you know, one end or the other, but just really how do you balance the different aspects of all these things that I think is super interesting.

Joe Mills: Yeah, I had not thought of that. That’s all awesome observation. Even thinking about chips, right? So leading into Wil’s conversation, talking to Chip, he talked about, and I brought this up in the, um, in sort of our recap of that show of like the tension I feel between being authentically you with getting feedback from.

um, the community on how am I showing up? Yep. And so it’s not about using the model of like the Annie Graham for an example as like an excuse or a permission slip to just like run rap shot over the world, doing whatever you want all the time. Um, because you just feel like it’s authentic. Mm-hmm. , it might not even be.

Um, but it’s also about finding that balance of like, Who am I? How do I show up in this environment? How do I serve those around me? How do I enable them to be them, their best selves? Like there is this like push and pull of individual with group that, that will talked about too, right? Where he talked about, um, the overlapping of your purpose with the company purpose mm-hmm.

and how important it is to find that really

Reid Morris: crucial. Yeah. Huge. And, and we talk all the time about how we’re in a fortune position where those things do, you know, overlap for us. But I think it’s a really interesting. Reminder for people, or let’s say somebody is just struggling a little bit in, in whatever their role is or their car position, and maybe they haven’t thought about that fact of, Yeah, like either they know their personal purpose and they know their companies and they don’t align, or they haven’t done the introspection to find their own.

Why. Mm. And that could be the sort of determining factor in realizing, well, there’s a misalignment

Joe Mills: there when you make big life decisions. Like, where am I gonna put my time in my career? Where am I gonna spend, you know, 40 plus hours a week? Who are the people I want to be around? Who are the people I want to be serving?

If you haven’t done any of that thought process, like what do I want out of this environment and this portion of my life, it can get really hard for you to find satisfaction. That role regardless of everything else.

Reid Morris: And, and flip the script too from people who are on the receiving end of that, right.

People who are looking for job opportunities for, but for people who are creating those opportunities as well. Right? Circle back if you have not personally developed that, why, or your organization has not done so. It’s gonna make it a lot harder to articulate differentiators for people who might join your company or to get people compelled to join because they have that alignment.

Right? Yep. So it, it, it plays in at so many different points of this relationship between companies, their leadership and these employees that just having that clarity in, in your why, in your purpose is, Really an accelerator and almost a different level of like maturity for organizations. Mm-hmm. , that can really be a game changer in, in a lot of different

Joe Mills: areas.

Yeah. It feels like the way that mature organizations are brave and their positioning with the idea that there will be people who they should not serve because their positioning dictates it. Yeah. Or that might not reach out to them because their positioning so clear that they’re not a good fit. It’s similar with the employer side of it, I think like employer, employee, like there’s people who should not work.

because they don’t fit in the culture. Yeah. And knowing that earlier is much better, but it takes some bravery to do it. Yeah. Can

Reid Morris: you drive their economic engine and can you create an environment where their purpose is aligned

Joe Mills: with yours? Yeah. Totally. So yeah, I think it was an awesome conversation and um, I like what he added to, to the whole mix.

Yeah. Awesome. Appreciate it, Joe. 1,000 Stories is brought to you by Element Three with production by Share Your Genius. This show is part of our company mission to foster growth in people and business so they can change the world. If you’re finding the show helpful or inspiring, please help us by leaving a review on Apple or Spotify.

If you’d like to stay in the loop for more updates from our show and to hear other stories of growth, please head to elementthree.com/podcasting.

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