There’s no denying it, ‘purpose’ is the hottest word in business right now. It’s the topic being explored in boardrooms and lunchrooms around the globe. Leaders are asking why do we exist as a company beyond making a profit? How do we solve world problems instead of add to them? What is the real legacy we are creating?
And employees are starting to ask questions too. Is my daily work meaningful to me? Does my company really have a purpose beyond profit? Am I personally making a difference to those I serve?
For seven years now, I’ve been exploring purpose, studying it, writing about it and bringing it to life in my own projects and with clients. Over the past two years particularly, I’ve witnessed an explosion in the number of leaders addressing it, consultants specialising in it, books being written on it and research being published on it. There’s no doubt we’re entering the Purpose Economy!
Here’s the 7 Trends on Purpose* I’m predicting for 2018 and beyond.
*Keen to explore their potential impact on your company and how to approach purpose with your people? Send me an email and invite me in to speak or read more about my purpose philosophy in The Purpose Project.
Trend #1: Mass recognition that we’re entering the Purpose Economy.
When I first started exploring purpose many years ago, the questions were “What is purpose? Why does a business need one? How does purpose improve profitability?” People needed convincing. Today, the questions have changed. They’re not about what it is or why we need it, but how to get it. People no longer need convincing. In fact, they deeply desire it. Even Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, in his annual letter to CEO’s insisted that companies serve a social purpose. We’re way past the tipping point. Purpose is becoming mainstream. So, what’s the conversation on purpose you’re having in your boardroom and lunchroom?
Trend #2: Purpose will become an imperative as the world of work evolves.
The shift to automation and AI will see 47% of jobs disappear within 25 years meaning millions of people will be out-placed. “As the benefits of technology become more widely available — through reform or revolution — more of us will face the question, ‘When technology can do nearly anything, what should I do, and why?’” writes Robert Wolcott in this HBR article. Leaders that truly care, will be offering their employees options to explore their purpose and passions NOW, both inside and outside of work, so they’ll be amply prepared to be repurposed, redeployed or retrenched. How is your company preparing your people for this new world of work?
Trend #3: Recognition that lack of purpose at work is a major cause of depression.
According to Gallup, 63% of the global workforce say they are ‘not engaged’ and 24% say they’re ‘actively disengaged’. That’s 87% of people making a dying at work instead of a living. “There’s strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful – that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It’s a natural psychological need,” writes Johann Hari in the Guardian. What’s the opportunity here to integrate ‘purpose orientation’ counselling into the mental health services many companies offer? Who are the people in your company that hate their work who could explore their purpose?
Trend #4: Introduction of a new executive position in companies: The Chief Purpose Officer.
It’s tough to scale purpose and ensure everyone owns it and acts on it. CEO’s and boards will start to declare their private and public dedication to purpose by appointing a Chief Purpose Officer. The role will sit amongst the C-suite team and provide a human counter-position to the Chief Profit (Financial) Officer. The CPO will work steadfastly on purpose to help breakdown silo’s, transform culture and attract the next generation of employees – the purpose-driven millennials. In fact, Rich Lyons in this Forbes article advocates making everyone in the company the Chief Purpose Officer! How serious is your company about purpose? Would you consider appointing your first CPO?
Trend #5: Growth in ‘purpose-washing’ resulting in increased employee and public distrust.
On the flipside, we’re also going to see increasing employee and public distrust as companies will be perceived to be ‘purpose-washing’ just as we saw the advent of ‘green-washing’ in the sustainability arena. We’ll see companies making the two grave mistakes of handing purpose over to the marketing and advertising department or lumping it in with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. “Using Corporate Social Responsibility as a substitute for purpose is Corporate Social Irresponsibility. It’s the dark side of CSR,” states Dan Pontefract in this Forbes article. Where does purpose sit in your company? Does it receive the reverence and place it deserves?
Trend #6: Growth in CEO Activism & Cause Leadership.
We’ve already seen it with Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas who made a stand on same-sex-marriage and we’re going to see many more leaders making social and political stands on issues that affect their people. We’ll also see more leaders like Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia directly linking their company purpose to their cause. Finally, our business leaders are going to stand for something instead of leaving the good fight to NGO’s and NFP’s. This brilliant HBR story The New CEO Activists demonstrates why leaders should become activists and how to do it with integrity. What does your CEO stand for? How can your CEO become an activist and cause leader?
Trend #7: Growth in Employee Activism and desire for purpose and meaning at work.
Trickle-down purpose, like trickle-down economics simply won’t work. Purpose is not something to be mandated or rolled out in a compulsory fashion as a new ‘employee culture program’. Purpose is best unearthed as a movement and seen as a company community project. The people that most care about purpose are your purpose activists, the self-leaders, the ones that deeply desire their leaders to bring both organisational and personal purpose (BYO Purpose) to life. These are the people at most risk of leaving, yet the ones you most need to keep. Who are the people in your company that care deeply about purpose? How do you engage them?
Are you prepared for purpose success in your company? Read my 10 Ways to Prepare Blog!
Join the Purpose Movement
Keen to explore the potential impact of these 7 Trends on Purpose in your company? Send me an email and invite me in to speak or read more about my purpose philosophy in The Purpose Project. You can buy bulk copies of the book to share with your co-workers or your business and book club buddies. There are some very special pricing offers and bonuses for orders of 10+ books including an e-journal. Are you ready to start your purpose adventure?
Who am I and what do I know about purpose?
I’ve been studying purpose for the last seven years as the core premise of both the B Corporation and Conscious Capitalism movements. I’ve also been bringing it to life in my own startup business school and through various other projects, including The Purpose Project. I’m no purpose guru. I’m a 20-year veteran of banking who suffered through many corporate change/culture programs before I quit to start my own purpose-driven business, so I know from personal experience about people who flee to find purpose. And now after 16 years as a small business owner and author of five books, I’ve experimented, prototyped and tested purpose to the max. As a result, I have a realistic, humanistic, practical approach to purpose that offers companies a cost-effective way to bring purpose to life. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +61 412 806 950.