My business’s purpose is to make money, indeed! Or, my organization’s purpose is not to make that evil capitalist offshoot profit and charitably serve society instead.
But is this its purpose? There is a realization catching on like wildfire around the world. It is that making money for the shareholders is not actually what gets us up in the morning. We are unlikely to give our best efforts when we feel we can’t bring our whole selves to work. Somehow, we have to leave half of ourselves in the car park while we trudge through the day. We are waiting for 5 o’clock, our weekends and our pensions.
Is purpose all about the why?
Why does your organization exist? Why was it created? What does it stand for in the world? Why does it matter? And what difference would it make if it wasn’t there?
Asking these kinds of questions taps into something deeper within ourselves that inspires us. We all want to belong to something, to have the feeling that our contributions matter. This is most easily done when our values and aspirations are aligned with our organization’s purpose.
Here’s a small example. Patagonia is a company that designs and makes outdoor clothing and gear. Their purpose, their ‘Reason for Being’ as they put it, is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. People who work at Patagonia have a strong identification with the outdoors and make a difference to the environment. Instead, they would not be working for a different manufacturer somewhere else: the company stands for what they stand for.
Because of this, they are passionate about its purpose, and they bring oodles of discretionary effort to their jobs. In a world where, as the Gallup poll admits, only 13% of us are engaged at work; this makes a huge difference – if you can tap into the other 87% of people’s energy, this releases a lot of potential in the organization. It also sets up a positive chain of events: Patagonia receives around 10,000 resumes for 100 openings. That is a powerful way to harvest talent for your organization.
It’s not about ditching profit.
If you’re reading this as a commercial enterprise, the purpose is not about ditching profit and suddenly getting all causal about things. It’s about putting drive at the centre of your enterprise, putting it before profit and being purpose-led because, ironically, companies connected to their purpose end up being 10 – 18 times more profitable than those companies who focus solely on profit itself. The two are inextricably interlinked. And it makes sense. Work is intensely personal.
The more we as companies can tap into what our employees care about, the more inspired they will be at work, and the more inspired they are, the more they will contribute to the success of our company. If you add to this the possibilities of also connecting your other stakeholders to your purpose – selecting suppliers who resonate with your purpose, for example, and ensuring that the brand you put out into society reflects your purpose – then a powerful ripple effect is created that sustains itself and is far more effective than a leader trying to gee up the troops from the front.
This is as true for commercial enterprises as not-for-profits. Purpose aligns us, energizes and unites us. When we are connected to something greater than ourselves, we are inspired by something we can believe in. All the silly little distractions, like me jostling for position over you, talking at cross purposes, duplicating effort or silos, are lessened because we have a common language and are all clear about what we’re here to do’re inspired by it.
So how do you go about setting up your organization’s purpose?
In many respects, it is easier to do it from scratch and build it into your organization’s DNA from the beginning so that it is central to all your other operations. It can be challenging for existing organizations, vast and complex ones, to turn the oil tanker towards the true north of purpose. If you want to hear a pin drop, put a group of executives of a large enterprise into a room and ask them what their company’s goal is. The last time I did it, the uncomfortable silence and shifting in seats indicated that this was not something they had thought much about before. Still, underlying that was an unspoken apprehension that they might disagree should they discuss this openly.
However, some distinctions help:
Vision: The picture of our desired future state
Mission: What we do and who we serve to get there
Values: The beliefs that underpin our behaviours to make assignment and vision a reality
Purpose: Why we do all this in the first place, why we exist
Here are some examples of well-known companies’ purposes:
Disney: Using our imagination to bring happiness to millions.
Merck: To alleviate pain and suffering.
Walmart: Save money, live better.
McLaren: To win.
Your organization -?
What would you put, personally? Does this align with your values? What would everybody else put down? How does this align with your organization’s current vision and values? And how do you begin to have the conversation to align and harness the energies of your organization towards an inspiring and fulfilling purpose?
Gina Hayden is a Director of Sphere Consulting Services, The Global Centre for Conscious Leadership, the Conscious Capitalism UK Chapter and The Conscious Leadership Consultancy She is the author of ‘Becoming a Conscious Leader: How to Lead Successfully in a World that’s Waking Up.