In 2011, when I first started teaching and writing about purpose in the business world, there was a serious lack of understanding about what it really meant. For many leaders, being driven by a higher purpose than profit seemed to be a mighty unpopular and unprofitable idea. Indeed, there wasn’t really any serious talk about it at all. Even until last year, I’d say that purpose was still a mere buzzword, a way to pretty-up the mission statement or something for the marketers to play around with as a tagline for the next marketing campaign.
Enter 2020. Purpose has not gone away, and in fact, given current world events, it’s never been more important and urgent. It’s no longer a buzzword or a marketing ploy. Every leader knows that without a higher purpose than profit, their company simply won’t have a long-term future and that time is running out. They know that people are waking up and that they will eventually refuse to work for, buy from, or invest in any company that does not place the wellbeing of humanity and our planet above their pocket.
To complicate matters, there are two levels of purpose for leaders to consider and unearth. The first, and most obvious, is organisational purpose. The second is personal purpose, the capacity for employees to bring their own why to work. I call this BYO purpose. Great leaders understand that these are not mutually exclusive but complementary. They understand that the key to attracting and retaining the best people is through the power of deep purpose, at both levels.
At an organisational level, the challenge for executive teams will not be in accepting that a new company purpose is essential, but in how to get it right from the get-go. There will be many questions to consider. How do we engage our people in the purpose co-creation process so that everyone takes ownership? How do we ensure that it drives them in their everyday job, in their teams and across silos? How will we embed this new purpose into our end-to-end employee experience from recruitment to retirement? How do we infuse this purpose into the practical day-to-day functions of our company from finance to sales and customer service? And finally, how do we capture the stories that best demonstrate our purpose at work?
At a personal level, the first challenge for executives will be in unearthing their own purpose and clearly aligning it to their leadership. Why do I do what I do? Why am I a leader in this company? What do I want to fix for our people, for our country, for the world-at-large? What drives me beyond a pay-packet? Leaders who cannot openly state and demonstrate their very personal reason for getting out of bed to go to work every day, will find it nigh on impossible to engage their people in purpose at any level. Any ‘purpose program’ risks becoming just another change program to be seen as a half-hearted attempt at steering a sinking ship in a new direction.
But take heart. It’s not too late. All great change starts with a conversation. Why not let me help you take a Purpose Pulse-check at both levels of purpose to measure how urgent and important it is in your workplace right now?
Yours on purpose
About me: I help leaders attract and retain the best people by harnessing the power of deep purpose and storytelling. I do this through The Purpose Project for Companies (a 5-step customised consultative process to help leaders in organisations unearth their corporate purpose) and The Purpose Project Course (a 7-step DIY course to help individuals and teams bring their own purpose to work).