Author: Jill Young Miller

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About Jill Young Miller

As research translator for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to highlight professors’ research by “translating” their work into stories. Before coming to Olin, I was a communications specialist at WashU’s Brown School. My background is mostly in newspapers including as a journalist for Missouri Lawyers Media, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. Also, I am the reigning Olin Cornhole Champion.


Employees with a higher purpose have more well-being, more happiness and even lower stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings from a new survey by two WashU Olin professors.

And the effects were more substantial when they had written down their purpose statements.

Also, employees of organizations with higher-purpose statements are happier and prouder of their organizations than are employees at workplaces without such a statement, the results show. Again, the effects were stronger when the purpose statement was written—and tied to society, employees and customers, rather than shareholders.

The findings echo the August 2019 announcement by the powerful corporate lobby group of U.S. leaders called the Business Roundtable, focusing the future on purpose. Such evidence of a national shift dovetails nicely with one of Olin’s key strategic pillars: values-based, data driven decision making.

Anjan Thakor and Stuart Bunderston

“As human beings, we are wired for purpose—to know why, to seek meaning in the things we do,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center and the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance. “When we have clarity on what our purpose is, we are happier and more fulfilled.”

Bunderson and Anjan Thakor surveyed 1,109 people in May to learn about their commitment to and perceived worth of a personal and organizational higher purpose.

Thakor is coauthor of the book The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization, director of Olin’s doctoral programs and the Center for Finance & Accounting Research, and the John E. Simon Professor of Finance.

Conference leads to curiosity

The professors’ curiosity was piqued during a fall 2019 conference they organized on WashU’s campus about personal and organizational higher purpose. Academic researchers, consultants and corporate leaders came together to share findings and experiences.

A presentation by Vic Strecher of the University of Michigan particularly struck Bunderson and Thakor, they write in their report June 2020 report “Personal and Organizational Higher Purpose: Survey Results.”

Strecher noted that workers’ stress levels and dissatisfaction were rising, even as economic conditions were improving. As for the next group entering the workforce, he also mentioned that suicidal ideation had doubled on US college campuses in the past decade. Stretcher stressed the importance of a personal higher purpose in coping with the stresses, noting that someone who does not “repurpose their life” at retirement is 2.4 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than someone who adopts an authentic higher purpose.

Speaker Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller, emphasized the importance of organizational higher purpose. Some 65% of people would give up a raise if they could fire their own boss, he said. He also noted that an employee’s boss is more critical to that employee’s health than the family doctor.

“These remarks and other discussions at the conference made us curious to know more,” Bunderson and Thakor say in their report on their survey.

“What does personal higher purpose really do for people? How do individuals perceive the value of personal purpose in their lives? What is the role of an organization’s higher purpose in the lives of its employees? Are there any connections between personal and organizational higher purpose?”

Write it down

The 1,019 individuals they surveyed in May were employed and chosen as representative of the American population’s gender, racial and geographic diversity.

“I was most surprised by the fact that when companies have written statements of higher purpose,” Thakor said, “not only do the employees trust its leaders to make socially responsible decisions, but also better business decisions.”

Bunderson said he was “very surprised at how much more powerful these effects are when the purpose statement is written down. It’s like that old saying that a goal you don’t write down is just a wish.”

Additional findings included:

  • A majority of respondents had a personal higher purpose, but most had not written it down;
  • Having a written personal statement of purpose helped people in various ways, including coping with stress and finding happiness;
  • Curiously, those with a written higher purpose also reported higher levels of anxiety;
  • The incidence of written statements of higher purpose was higher among organizations than among individuals;
  • Employees at organizations with higher purpose statements were prouder of working for their organizations and happier than other employees;
  • Organizational higher purpose statements were more effective when written down and when they emphasized society, customers, employees and stakeholders other than shareholders;
  • Employees of organizations with higher purpose statements are more likely to have personal statements of higher purpose.

“We aren’t exactly sure why that is the case, but it may be that employees who work for organizations with a higher purpose statement are inspired to develop one for their lives,” Bunderson said. “This may be one way that good work practices can positively impact employees’ personal lives.”

The finding about higher levels of anxiety, he said, is “generally consistent with research suggesting that a sense of duty or stewardship toward something or someone can be both a burden and an important source of meaning.”

Using the survey findings, Bunderson and Thakor have built a personal higher purpose index and an organizational higher purpose index.

“These will enable us to examine how personal and organizational higher purpose and their perceived outcomes change over time,” Bunderson said.

Capitalizing on purpose

Businesses have risen from ruins because of their ability to recognize and capitalize on purpose, Thakor emphasizes in presentations. Those businesses have excelled and grown. But they don’t do it at the expense of making a buck.

Thakor cites a couple of examples of organizational higher purpose in his working paper “Higher Purpose, Incentives and Economic Performance.”

  • Detroit-based DTE Energy clarifies its higher purpose as being “a force for growth and prosperity.” The company names four pillars through which its social impact is to manifest: people (“improving lives and creating opportunity”), places (“partners with communities for growth”), planet (“leadership toward cleaner energy and environmental stewardship”) and progress (“powering a brighter tomorrow”).
  • Tree T-PEE, based in Arcadia, Florida, offers water-containment systems for agribusiness. It articulates its higher purpose as helping farmers conserve water and energy in farming.

Learn more

To explore more about the concept of a higher purpose, you may want to read these blog posts:




Lauren Herring is CEO of IMPACT Group, a global leader in employee career development. Under her leadership, the company now operates in more than 77 international locations in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Herring spoke to Olin students in January in Defining Moments: Lessons in Leadership and Character from the Top, a class the Bauer Leadership Center offers.

Here, Brinda Perumal, MBA ’20, shares her thoughts on Herring’s talk:

Philosophy of leadership

Brinda Perumal

Lauren Herring believes that you should be the CEO of your own career. As CEO of your own career, you should plan intentionally and reflect annually, or ever quarterly, about what you want in life. Are you doing things today that will help you get there? As long as you feel that you are in the right place at the right time, there is no correct career path.

Ultimately, Lauren stated the importance of being true to yourself and your personality. There may be traits of other leaders that you want to emulate, but, at the end of the day, stay true to your brand and remember that gravitas comes from inside you. It is important to believe in yourself and your work so that you remember why you are doing what you are doing. Your confidence, core values and a sense of who you are will be your assets toward success as a leader.

Impact of philosophy

The idea of being the CEO of your own career has permeated her own path to leadership. Lauren’s goal was never to do what all her peers were doing but rather to follow the path that was right for her. Her decision to help the family when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and focus on her own career later ultimately shifted into her wanting to become more involved with IMPACT Group. This entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take risk has guided her rise to leadership and her actions as a leader.

Lauren did express that this desire to make the business her own may have been taken too far. Looking back, she wishes that rather than feeling the need to be able to prove how much she knows and that she had all the answers, she would have focused on asking more questions, engaging others along the way and inviting others’ opinions. From her experience, she shared with us the importance of making others feel valued, smart and engaged by bringing them into decisions and asking for their advice.

What I learned and would want to emulate

Lauren advised us to be not just the CEO of our careers but also the CMO of our career. I plan to implement this advice as I work on building my brand, so that I can promote and manage my personal brand while owning who I am. I really admired Lauren’s presence in the room. She was very down-to-earth and relatable. It was easy to see that success had not changed her as a person. She was clearly very true to herself and her core values and passionate about the work she does. I hope that I can carry myself the same way she does—with poise, relatability, and compassion—as a leader.

Pictured at top: Lauren Herring, CEO of IMPACT Group




Lauren Herring

People who lost their jobs during the pandemic and are looking for work might find this new book helpful: “Take Control of Your Job Search! 10 Emotions You Must Master to Land the Job” (Simply Good Press, July 2020).

A successful job search is about much more than a resume, says author Lauren Herring, MBA ’07. It’s an emotional process, and how you manage your feelings will influence your search, she says.

Herring is the CEO of IMPACT Group, a global career development company. In her book, she examines 10 emotions that affect job seekers and provides guidance on how to master them for clarity and control.

“The emotional toll of joblessness has probably never been higher as our career and financial concerns are now combined with life-and-death health concerns,” said Herring, who lives in St. Louis. With increased unemployment, competition for jobs “creates tremendous fear for people.”

“Since so many people don’t have the luxury of working one-on-one with a career coach, I decided to write this book,” she said.

The book is in three parts: Emotions of loss, which are grief/sadness, anger and fear; emotions that paralyze, which are denial, frustration, anxiety and loneliness; and emotions that move you forward, which are self-compassion, confidence and excitement.

Network, network, network

The best way to land a job is through networking, Herring pointed out. Leveraging your network will also help minimize one of the primary sources of frustration in a job search, which is applying online and not hearing anything back.

“Spending 40 hours a week searching the job boards is counter-productive in a job search. It’s not particularly effective, and it can lead to loneliness and increase anxiety.”

Herring says that to reduce anxiety about networking, think of it as “reconnecting” with old friends or colleagues. Because of social distancing, some people may feel limited in their ability to network.

“But it’s really nothing more than reaching out in an authentic manner to let people know your job search goals and also to offer help with anything they might need as well.”

Create a ‘Super Team’

Herring says it’s critical to have a network of support while searching for a job. She suggests creating a “Super Team” much like a personal board of advisers.

“You’ll want professional contacts who know your industry or field, as well as leaders you respect who can share their perspective on your approach to the market, give feedback on your resume and even help you with mock interviews,” she said.

You’ll also want friends or family or possibly a faith leader who can help lift your spirits when you’re down and remind you of all your great qualities, she says.

“Now more than ever, having the confidence to stand out, be proactive in your search and connect with your network through nontraditional means, such as Zoom, will deliver results.”




Companies typically offer incentives directly to customers who refer friends. Google Apps, for instance, offers customers $15 for each new friend they recruit. And World of Warcraft, the video game, offered users a free month of gaming if they successfully influenced friends to buy a subscription.

Suppose, however, that the reward went to the friends—instead of the existing customers? New research shows marketers could win more customers because existing customers may value the boost in their reputation among friends more than a “selfish” financial incentive.

Cynthia Cryder
Cynthia Cryder

Olin’s Cynthia Cryder, associate professor of marketing, and coauthors examined how social dynamics change the outcomes of incentivized behavior.

In two field experiments and a lab experiment, they found that “prosocial” (friend-benefiting) referral incentives recruited more new customers than “selfish” (sender-benefiting) incentives. They report the findings in “Why Prosocial Referral Incentives Work: The Interplay of Reputational Benefits and Action Costs” in the Journal of Marketing Research.

The benefits that come from being generous to one’s friends substantially influence decisions in ways that are not obvious to everyone who designs incentive programs, Cryder said.

The researchers focused on customer referral programs in which companies offer incentives to customers who refer people in their social network to become new customers. To the best of their knowledge, the research is the first to investigate “anticipated reputational benefits as a driver of prosocial behavior in referral programs.”

Reputational rewards motivate people to behave generously because of their strong desire for social approval and the fundamental human need to maintain close personal relationships, Cryder said.

GiftAMeal

For one study in their research, Cryder and coauthors conducted a field experiment with the startup GiftAMeal. GiftAMeal partners with restaurants and encourages diners to take pictures of their meals and share them on social media. Then, GiftAMeal donates a meal to a food bank each time a customer shares on social media. (Andrew Glantz, BSBA ’17, founded the company while he was a student at Olin.)

The experiment tested different incentive structures on new customer conversions. GiftAMeal emailed 6,364 customers, asking them to refer their friends to download the app. The customers were randomly assigned to one of five experimental conditions:

  • control with no monetary incentive,
  • sender-benefiting (Customers received a $5 Amazon gift card for each friend who downloaded the app.),
  • recipient-benefiting (Referred friends received a $5 gift card if they downloaded the app.),
  • shared (Senders and their friends each received a $2.50 gift card if the friend downloaded the app.),
  • or donation (GiftAMeal donated $5 to the charity Feeding America for each download.).

Overall, the conversion rate was low in the study, which is typical for referral programs, the authors said.  Nevertheless, they detected significant differences between experimental conditions. The conversion rate was marginally higher in the friend-benefiting condition relative to the sender-benefiting condition. Multiple follow-up studies confirmed this pattern.

Scarcity of friend-benefiting rewards

As part of the research, a research assistant searched for about 300 referral incentive programs online and categorized them based on who received the reward. Of the 351 referral incentive programs, 40.5% offered sender-benefiting rewards, while only 2.6% offered recipient-benefiting rewards. (Fifty-five percent offered rewards that  the sender and recipient shared.)

Yet, Cryder’s research shows referrals that benefit one’s social connections are more effective than sender-benefiting referrals: Recipient-benefiting referrals offer reputational benefits to the sender while also directly incentivizing the friend to sign up.

“The preponderance of sender-benefiting referral incentives in the marketplace suggests these effects are not expected by marketers who design incentive schemes,” she said.




After 40 years in the tech world, Quorum Software President and CEO Gene Austin, MBA ’87, has a lot to share about his career, including lessons learned along the way.

Gene Austin

Austin talked about what it’s like to run fast-growing – and not-so-fast-growing – tech businesses and about the strategies and skills necessary to lead them. He spoke Feb. 12 in Dallas before an audience of Olin alumni, corporate executives and others.

Quorum is a leading provider of financial and operations software for the oil and gas business. Austin has led the company since January 2019. Previously, as part of the startup space, Austin spent 15 years as CEO for two software companies: Convio and Bazaarvoice.

Convio was a leading provider of online fundraising tools for nonprofits. Austin joined the company at only $5 million in revenue and led it to a successful IPO in 2010 and a sale in 2012 to Blackbaud. Bazaarvoice is a leading provider of online ratings and reviews where Austin assumed the CEO role in 2013 and led the company to a successful sale to private equity in 2018.

Here are some of Austin’s takeaways.

Early in your career

Spend time on the front line. “What I mean by that is at the point where the company and the customer interact. I don’t care if it’s sales, support, services. It doesn’t really matter. That interaction can shape the way you think as a business leader for the rest of your life, which it has me,” Austin said.

Enjoy the journey

“People are in too big of a hurry career-wise in many cases. I always tell them to ask yourself five questions, and I actually got this from a fellow CEO.”

  1. Are you growing?
  2. Are you learning?
  3. Are you having fun? Is your team fun?
  4. Does your boss have your back? “The biggest reason employees become disgruntled is their relationship with their manager, it’s not pay.”
  5. Do you have a plan for your future? “Not the 5-, 10-year plan, but an immediate plan.” What are your goals for 6, 12, 24 months from now?

“Skills development and eliminating what you don’t like are the two things people should be focused on, in my opinion, for the first 15 to 20 years.”

Put a startup on your bucket list

“If you have the opportunity to join a startup, do it. It is a phenomenal experience, bar none. I was able to join a company called CareerBuilder.com, which is still out there. It’s a massive job board. This was a disruptive ploy. Fifty percent of the revenues for newspapers were from job classifieds back in the 1996 timeframe.”

So you want to take a company public? Think again

“I would ask why, and I would start going through the reasons you should be concerned,” Austin said.

“You will lose 20 percent of your time as a CEO. You will change the way you can talk to your employees and communicate and rally folks because you have to be very careful about making people insiders. The cost just to have an audit will be in excess of a million dollars. And it goes on and on and on.

“Today you have so many other ways to provide liquidity to your investors. The private equity market has money sitting on the shelves.”

How Austin operates as a CEO

The CEO has to balance three things, he said: customers, employees and investors. “I personally start with the customer. I always start with, ‘How is this decision going to impact customers?’ And then I quickly go to employees. I believe if I’m good by both of those two constituents, I will pay off the investor.”

To learn more, watch Austin’s presentation, “What the Tech?”