Want to move up at work? Be a true believer

May 29, 2013, Brigham Young University
John Bingham is professor of organizational leadership and strategy at the BYU Marriott School of Management. Credit: Jaren Wilkey

New research is tweaking an old adage about how to get ahead in a competitive workplace: It's not just who you know, but what you believe in.

A recently published BYU business study finds that employees who are "true believers" in the mission of their organization are more likely to increase in status and influence than non-believers.

"Many organizations today have a well-defined mission with enduring principles that matter, not only to employees, but to other stakeholders," said John Bingham, BYU professor of and strategy. "It's a shift from the old paradigm. In these companies, it's less about who you know."

Patagonia, Whole Foods Market, The Body Shop and Intel are a few well-known mission-based companies that may fit the mold.

The study found those who exhibit a strong belief in a brand's mission or cause become more influential in important company circles, while those simply focused on punching the clock become more peripheral players – regardless of formal company position or overall performance.

For the study, which appears online in management journal Organization Science, Bingham and his colleagues surveyed employees at organizations with mission-based cultures.

One of those organizations was an outdoor footwear manufacturer founded on principles of that engages in several green policies, such as subsidizing employees who ride bikes to work and buying electricity generated by .

"Those who were true believers in this company's cause were considered idea leaders and influenced how other viewed their work," Bingham said. "If the mission is a legitimate part of an organization's identity, that tends to be the case."

Past research looking at status in a company has focused on the of individuals –height, gender, race – and structural factors, such as the formal positions one occupies.

While those factors still remain strongly influential in many organizations – especially those without well-defined missions, Bingham believes a growing number of people entering the workforce are passionate about causes and are looking for employers that both "do good and do well."

He and his colleagues are now testing how much of a pay cut executives at top public companies are willing to take to work for a socially responsible firm.

"Having a mission-based organization has great potential to recruit and retain talent," Bingham said. "But it has to be legitimate. If top management doesn't believe it or is simply using it as a ploy, it doesn't work."

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3 / 5 (8) May 30, 2013
You can move up from an online reputation management manipulator to Canadian Senator if you are a true believer. Not so great a path lately, but the perks are still awesome, and you barely have to attend, let alone do any work!
3 / 5 (8) May 30, 2013
So, if you believe in "Greed is good", you'll rise fast? What's the flip side of that trajectory?
1 / 5 (4) May 30, 2013
You can move up from an online reputation management manipulator to Canadian Senator if you are a true believer. Not so great a path lately, but the perks are still awesome, and you barely have to attend, let alone do any work!

Heck, that's nothing. In the US, in no time at all, you can go from unsuccessful local race hustler to the most powerful person on Gaia with no record of accomplishment whatsoever. You just have to be a True Believer in the 1984 Theory of Governance and then you even get to use the power of entire government to destroy your opponents.

And talk about perks! Play lots of golf and basketball (even if not very well), skip all those boring Security Briefings every morning, have an official workday of 4 hours or less, party with Beyonce and JayXYZ and go on free multi-million dollar vacations once a month, to which your wife can travel separately on her own official, tricked-out jumbo jet.

As Yakoff Smirnoff would say - "What a country!"
1 / 5 (1) May 30, 2013
Every way of rising in corporate hierarchy is suspicious, until it's not based on quality of work and social cooperation. The true believers are both unscrupulous, both manipulatable easily, so they're often chosen for cadre reserve with higher management. Which is IMO the main reason, why religion persists so obstinately in human society - during long history the noncritical supporters were systematically genetically selected by their leaders, whereas the critical thinkers were executed or pacified in various ways before they could rise their children.

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