I am owner of a small start up web+mobile development company. We are 2 full time programmers (including myself) and 4 part time programmers. I asked my team a question: Do you think it's important for a computer programmer to do something that makes the world a better place? The results:
3 people said yes
2 people said they became a computer programmer just because they want to solve interesting problems, doesn't matter if it makes the world a better place
1 person said he became a computer programmer so he can make video games, which he claimed might actually have a negative impact on society due to prevalence of gaming addiction, but he wants to do it anyway.
I am one of the programmers who believes in using my skills to make the world a better place. I am trying to convince all my employees that they should do the same, that they should do more than just work for the pay cheque, or work for me or work for my company. But that through our company, we should support clients and people who are trying to make a positive difference in the world. For example, right now I'm finalizing a deal with the hospital to create a medical simulation software. Three of the people on my team (including myself) want to take part in this project because we believe it will improve medical trainees abilities to manage certain medical disorders and improve patient lives. Two of the people on my team just like the challenge and prestige of solving difficult problems, and being able to say it makes the world a better place is bonus to tell their friends and family. One programmer just thinks it's impressive to put on his resume, so he can realize his dream of working for a big video game company some day.
All my employees are also my friends whom I grew up with. Countless times throughout my life, they've gone out of their way to help me and my family. Now that they are also my employees, I want them to share the belief and commitment they've had in me to those clients who are trying to make a positive difference in the world. All my employees work hard, but it would be nice if everyone believed in working for a greater purpose than just oneself. Three of us already believe this. What is the likelihood I can convince the remaining three to believe the same thing?
I would be very careful about trying to dictate their beliefs. You say 'convince', but I would take into account your position over them: they are your employees--it can come across to them as dictating.
Trying to do this with employees, even (or especially) with people you call friends, could lead to a sticky and outright messy situation. I remember having a marketing professor who would go on and on about how people are made up of their core attitudes, values, and beliefs, and that attempts to change those would be downright difficult if not impossible.
Having said that, there's nothing wrong with trying to set a company culture that focuses on more altruistic projects; just don't expect everyone to be behind it for the same reasons, as we're all different people in the end.
Rather than worry about it, your energy is better spent elsewhere, IMHO!
The best way you can convince someone of anything is to model it to them. If your employees see your desire to impact the world positively and they see you acting on it, they will take notice. This will have more impact on them than you know - much more than talking about it.
In the end, it is their choice whether they share you beliefs or not. If it is really important to you to create a company culture where positive impact is an important and practiced value then Allison's point is very important - you should hire employees with the right skills AND the right cultural fit. Most great companies pay attention to building their culture in this way. As you hire more like-minded people you may find that employees that are not comfortable with that culture will move elsewhere.
It sounds like it is time for you to sit down and articulate for yourself the kind of company culture you want and then create a plan to actively create it. I don't think that an effective strategy is actively 'converting' current employees.
Im with Alex.Having a culture and business mission is great for making sure employees and business decisions are all on the same track. But your questions comes across like "how can I make sure my employees are all Christians" (or similar).
Their beliefs about what programming is all about are not going to perfectly coincide with yours and it doesn't sound like you hired to those beliefs anyway. Now you know what you know (which you may wish you never asked) it's time to decide whether it is essential for the business to have employees who aren't as altruistic as you may like...if it's a yes then you need to hire for that and let the others go (which I think deep down it sounds that you are asking for permission to do).
Believing that you have to make a conscious, declared effort to make the world a better place is a little fallacious. The employee who wants to work for a video game company will be making the world better by providing people with entertainment, otherwise there would be no money to be made in video game production. The commodity trader only in it for the money will be making the world better by providing liquidity in his market.
The presence of money in an activity is an implication that it is providing value to someone, so your social contract is being fulfilled simply by having a job and providing value to society. Your activities don't have to be explicitly philanthropic (hospitals, orphans, drug rehab) to "make the world a better place".