In the post-pandemic landscape, purpose has emerged as key driver in the rebuilding and regrouping process. Covid-19 changed the world, resulting in fast-moving and unexpected challenges. Following this unprecedented period of disruption, purpose represents a guiding light helping companies strengthen and plan for the future.
What is purpose?
Along with the growing interest in purpose, there is some confusion (and perhaps some scepticism) about what it really means!
Purpose conveys a company’s core values, long term impact, aspirations and relationship with all stakeholders. At its heart, purpose should be authentic, engaging and compelling – moving beyond the traditional investor perspective to maximise profit.
Apple’s purpose, for example, is to “empower creative exploration and self-expression.” Barclay’s Bank states its purpose as “Creating opportunities to rise. We are a company of opportunity makers, working together to help people rise – customers, clients, colleagues and society.” Beyond superficial buzzwords, purpose-driven companies ensure purpose permeates all aspects of operations and culture.
The concept of purpose is not entirely new and has roots in philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and ESG (environment, sustainability and governance). Responding to recent global events, social media and increased public scrutiny, companies are turning attention to purpose as a cohesive force aligning strategy, decision-making, social impact, customer relations and the employee experience.
Is there a business case for purpose?
Purpose and profit can coexist, supported by a growing business case. Research shows that a clear, compelling purpose can contribute to:
increased customer loyalty
increased employee satisfaction and retention
higher market share gains (when compared to competitors)
What about personal purpose?
In addition to company purpose, purpose also plays out at the personal level. Purposeful people are more productive, resilient and respond more positively when faced with challenges. Workplace surveys from across all sectors reveal that employees seek meaning at work and want to make a difference.
What can companies do to embed purpose?
A sense of purpose should be at the centre of company strategy, operations and culture. Purpose, however, need not be daunting and can be tackled in bite-sized efforts.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Purpose self-assessment
A self-assessment process can determine if purpose is authentic and embedded company-wide. Reflecting on key questions (such as those listed below) will identify “purpose gaps” and opportunities for improvement.
Is purpose inspiring and compelling (beyond financial results)?
Are there tangible HR commitments to staff, inclusion and wellbeing?
Are customers aware of purpose and return because of purpose?
Are there commitments to the environment and multiple stakeholders?
- Connect individual and company purpose
Traditionally, companies tended to define new directions then set about having employees embrace it. This top-down approach is unlikely to succeed. Connecting individual and organisational purpose is key. Helping staff establish meaningful links between personal and company purpose will go a long way in strengthening company strategy and culture.
- Update leadership development and norms
In purpose-led organisations, a reset of leadership norms and competencies may be required. Purpose comes to life in the everyday decisions that are made across the organisation. As such, the aim of purpose-centric development is to build confident leaders grounded in purpose at the personal and company levels.
Purpose has the power to transform, but also requires ongoing effort and organisation-wide engagement. Executing a successful, purpose-led strategy demands dedication, an appetite for self- reflection --- and taking the time to talk about purpose.
About the author:
Diane Gorsky: Consultancy specialising in organisational development, purpose-driven strategy and practical planning approaches. With an MBA and 20+ years senior leadership experience, areas of expertise include workshop facilitation, leadership development and workplace culture. Diane is an experienced international speaker providing webinars and training sessions on the topic of purpose.