If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely purpose-driven business is important to you.
Maybe you know that people are increasingly supporting meaningful businesses in how they shop and where they choose to work. Or maybe you heard that in 2015, meaningful brands around the world enjoyed increased sales, better brand awareness and higher annual returns than other companies. Or maybe you are sensing that the people who work for you are increasingly motivated by the aim to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable.
There’s no doubt about it, purpose is important.
But how does a company go about defining its purpose?
Unearthing higher purpose
In an earlier post we looked at personal purpose, a process that is more organic – a “follow your nose” approach – in order to discover what makes you come alive. In time, the true purpose becomes clearer. As Steve Jobs said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Company purpose is different.
While the idea of “unearthing” purpose seems similar to personal purpose – meaning that the purpose is already there, it just needs some work to be clearly identified – it is crucial that organisations distil and communicate purpose early on, in order to attract the right people to the work it is doing.
There are different schools of thought around how this can be achieved:
- Designing purpose: Some people suggest that purpose can be designed or decided by a group of individuals. It usually involves a brainstorming process with the aim of completing a company manifesto by the end of the process. A good example of this is the Holstee Manifesto that the founders produced together at its inception.
- Communicating purpose: Other processes aim to involve everyone in the organisation. The aim is to capture everyone’s input and distil it into a clear communicable message. Ikea’s mission statement is a good example of this.
- Sensing purpose: Frederic Laloux, in his book Reinventing Organisations, proposed that organisations have a “soul” of their own, and the people who work within them “sense” where the organisation wants to go. It does not rely on the personality or values of one single or small group of people. Amnesty International is a clear example of this.
- Founder-led purpose: Some organisations are obvious extensions of the founder. They may organically evolve with additional input over time, but they continue to reflect the vision of the founder, long after inception. Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, is a great example of this.
The truth is that each of these frameworks offers some value to companies working to uncover and communicate their purpose. In the process, you need to consider:
- The history of the company: Who founded it and why; what problem it was solving and how that has evolved over time?
- The present-day: How strong is the influence of the founder today. Are people drawn to that founder’s vision?
- Its evolution: What has changed as other people began to contribute to its mission?
- Co-creation: When everyone in the business is involved in purpose-seeking, they personally contribute. This increases accountability and commitment.
- Good communication: The process of communicating purpose may seem inauthentic to some – the idea that a bunch of ad execs will come up with a slick marketing message to promote the company – in fact, it is a crucial step in purpose-driven business. Without good communication, how can people support your work? And when done properly, it will certainly feel authentic.
The cost of bad culture
A 2013 Gallup poll found that 63 per cent of employees worldwide were “not engaged,” meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest effort in organisational goals or outcomes.
The same study found that disengaged employees exacerbate, rather than solve, problems; and are costly to companies in productivity and efficiency.
In comparison, engaged workers use their talents, develop productive relationships, and multiply their effectiveness through those relationships. They perform at consistently high levels and drive innovation to move their organisation forward.
Making the connection
As every experienced leader knows, good people are an organisation’s best asset. So the question lingers: “How can we attract good staff, and motivate and keep our best people engaged?”
You guessed it… The answer lies in purpose. According to an article in Fast Company, millennials — who will account for 75% of the workforce in 2025 — are motivated to choose meaning over money. While an increasing number of would-be retirees are shunning the “golden years,” to embark on exciting (sometimes necessary) second careers that are as much about doing good as they are about making a living.
The truth is people come to your organisation because they identify with its mission. There is something in your vision that aligns with theirs. The key is helping them to achieve their own sense of purpose while growing yours.
Thankfully, when done right the two will align.
The Peter Koenig model, Source, identifies the importance of the founder vision and energy, as well as how that is then amplified through the efforts of similarly passionate people. In short, the more connected people feel energetically to the idea/vision of the founder, the more they are able to realise and exercise their own goals within the project. This increases the momentum of the company beyond what could be achieved with a single founder.
Finally, it is worth noting that purpose is best fuelled by wellness. Passion is a powerful driver, but it soon runs out of steam if the energy is not replenished.
Make Do Co. considers the entire person when consulting on purpose. Other than being, well the right thing to do!, it just feels like the best path to success over the longest period of time.
“Nature likes balance. And so do the bodies and mind that work for you… Yes, adrenaline is the fuel of startups but mostly because it is cheap. Your job is to look after the team because they look after the business… Your team are more creative, think better, and much more fun to be around too if you can create a culture of balance.”
~ David Hieatt, DO / Purpose.
Johanna is the founder of Make Do Co., a business, culture and branding firm dedicated to helping meaningful businesses have an impact. Make Do works with organisations to unearth their higher purpose; to build a culture of energy and quality; and to help them to tell their stories so powerfully, the world listens. We also host public retreats, workshops and events to promote a more meaningful way of living and working.