Getting Ahead at Your Nonprofit or Mission-Driven Company

A new study finds that “true believers” are more likely than non-believers to increase in status and influence, especially at organizations that are ideologically-oriented. So stow away that cynicism.

The research comes from the paper called “Status and the true believer: The impact of psychological contracts on social status attributions of friendship and influence,” published in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of Organization Science.

“Those who were true believers in this company’s cause were considered idea leaders and influenced how other employees viewed their work,” said John Bingham, the lead author of the study and a professor of organizational leadership and strategy at BYU Marriott School of Management, but like yours truly, a alumnus of the University of Utah. “If the mission is a legitimate part of an organization’s identity, that tends to be the case,” he says.

Bingham and his coauthors, James B. Oldroyd, Jeffery A. Thompson, Jeffrey S. Bednar, and J. Stuart Bunderson… apparently you had to have a J in your first name to be part of this research team… surveyed teams at organizations with a mission-based culture.

In the past the way to get ahead was to be tall, have a strong handshake and a steady gaze, know the boss or the board well, and be in well-positioned in the company hierarchy.

“While those factors still remain strongly influential in many organizations,” the press release said, “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.’”

People want to belong to organizations that have meaning and purpose. That means nonprofit causes, but also companies like Whole Foods, Patagonia, and the Body Shop.

“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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