I am a Purpose and a WHY person not because it is trendy; it is because I am part of a species called human beings. We are the only ones on this planet, as far as we know, that want more out of life than survival; we want our life to mean something.
If we really listen deep, we do not want to be in the passenger seat. Our true self wants us to be someone who is at the driver’s seat knowing where we are going with the hope of having a positive impact. Yes, all of us have a yearning to contribute even if we are not conscious of it.
I am not making this all up, although what is my purpose? This question found me early in life (at least for my generation.) Several science fields show how much of a difference Purpose makes in our lives. (Check out my other articles here at purposeful.business/blog and at BizCatalyst 360°.)
Human beings are more fulfilled (a more sustainable form of happiness) when they do something that matters. They tap into a whole new source of the energy field in them that they don’t even know exists. (I experienced this so vividly when I walked away from a job that I was not aligned with who I am and stepped into work that feeds my purpose. You almost never get tired.)
And if workplaces are full of people, of course, we want to bring meaning to work too. We spend a big chunk of our time working. We want to work more and longer years if we find our work meaningful.
I discovered that an organization whose purpose is not solely to make a profit actually does better in the long run. They tap into that energy of their people doing good in the world. We all want all kinds of organizations to do more good in the world with lots of crises we are facing.
Businesses have a huge impact on humans and the planet’s health. Having a purpose beyond profit is the right thing to do. We don’t do it just to increase engagement or productivity although they are natural results. I cringe when I have to convince a leader that having an authentic purpose will lead to more revenue. I wish that was not the sole motivation to bring in more meaning to their people’s lives.
Embracing purpose shows we understand what it means to be a human being. That’s it.
Purpose of an organization is crucial in my opinion. It is a great starting point if we want to transform our organization. It is not enough though. It is only one element. It sets the foundation but it does not cause all the improvements we want to see by just focusing on it.
Why do I say that? Because from all my experience working with organizations here is what I observe:
- If you come up with an inspirational purpose with a top-down approach and expect everyone to embrace it, it does not work. (Unless you are the Founder(s) and you are just starting.)
- If you do not trust your people it does not work.
- If you do not give autonomy to your people, it does not work.
- If you believe in old hierarchical structures, it does not work.
- If you do not genuinely care about your people, it does not work.
I am seeing customers being disappointed because their people are leaving despite their purpose. Some of what they embraced from the above list is the reason.
Furthermore, when I look at how and what came up doing their Purpose discovery, here is what I see:
- They came up with a nice-looking purpose statement at the exec level with no participation from others. They announced it with great pride and expect people to love it.
- They made no ties to what this purpose means to their people’s daily jobs.
- There is no system, or guidance in place to live it every day.
- They do not check if their decisions are aligned with their purpose.
- They are still only thinking of their products and services, not how they touch lives or the planet.
With the best intentions, they expect their people to be engaged and happy. People will not be motivated by a nice statement that shows up on the hallways or website when they see no impact of it on their work or when execs are not making decisions aligned with it.
So what does a good example of a Purpose-Driven Organization look like?
- Purpose drives strategy not the other way around
- It aligns with every decision you make
- It is accompanied by Values you stand by
- It bonds with a great dream everyone can visualize (Vision)
- It is driven by human-centered, conscious leadership that exemplifies every day what Purpose alignment looks like
- The talent practices nourish and align with the Purpose/Vision and Values of the company There is autonomy by giving people their brains back, letting them make their own decisions while being accountable
- There is an effort to at least move towards flat and networked teams instead of hierarchical systems and bureaucracy
Purpose becomes real when you have to make tough decisions. If you say you are affordable as an airline, like Southwest, you should be willing to say no to the pressure coming from shareholders to charge for luggage. When you say you do not want to exploit children labor in faraway lands, you need to accept your cost will come up which you may not reflect to your customers. When you have “Love” as one of your values, you have to show love when you lay off people.
It is only when you have to make tough decisions that we know if you are truly purposeful or not. That is the ultimate test. It is easy when nothing is at stake.
Yes, all this is not so straightforward. Yet it is all possible. It takes time and effort as everything else that matters in life. It matters to do the right thing for our people and our planet.
I am a big Purpose person so I will never diminish the role it plays in our lives. What I have found over the years is without these other elements, Purpose is like a recipe with one main ingredient that will not hold up.
You cannot fit Purpose into a system that is already broken and expect miracles.
Purpose is a crucial ingredient of a whole new recipe we need for work and it needs to be supported by other human practices.