What do we mean by purpose? And how can we benefit from it?
In recent years there have been many examples of people with strong purpose effecting change. Ones that come to mind immediately include the Scottish Referendum, Brexit, the MeToo movement and the Florida Parkland School students, lobbying for changes to gun laws in the US. Whether you agree with their purpose or not, it is impossible not to notice the results.
Perhaps the most powerful current example is the single-minded campaigning of Greta Thunberg for climate change, who surely epitomises what a clear purpose can achieve. Her recent tweets show the focus on her cause.
Her purpose is clear, and it overrides every other consideration in her mind. It’s been effective enough to convince two governments to date, to declare a state of climate emergency. Not bad for a 16 year-old student.
Purpose is referenced in business all the time. It’s clear that many institutional investors are no longer satisfied with organizations having the sole purpose of a financial return to shareholders, especially at the expense of the environment. Your purpose also must be a force for good in society in some way, however small. Social media has created a powerful lobby and company’s intentions and actions are constantly being scrutinized, so apart from anything else, it makes economic sense to closely question the purpose of your organization.
At a recent conference we had the opportunity to listen to Haley Rushing from the The Purpose Institute – the acknowledged leaders in the field of corporate purpose. She shared the United Airlines case study, amongst many others, and why the purpose of giving people ‘the freedom to fly’ is so much more powerful than being a low-cost airline.
Real purpose has social impact at heart.
It also helps that the language is thoughtful and powerful – the phrase the late, lamented charismatic leader Herb Kelleher used was “democratize the skies”. Poetic purpose!
Whilst hoping that you may already have found some of this article interesting, we can hear you shouting “GREAT. WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH ME??!!” Fair enough. We hear you.
Whilst it’s possible for anyone to influence the company’s greater purpose, it’s unlikely to be at the top of your to do list today. But whatever project, programme or activity you are undertaking, it really is worth starting with the purpose. Ask yourself two simple questions.
1. Is there a clear purpose to the work we are undertaking?
2. Is there a social benefit beyond the economic or organizational goal?
This doesn’t have to be a planet-saving Thunberg level benefit, but is it going to help people in some way? Does it go beyond economic benefit, and will it bear scrutiny if at a later point someone asks why money and time was being spent on it?
More often than not, the origin of projects and programmes are lost somewhere in the establishing of steering groups, streams of work and levels of governance. We have been charged with engaging hundreds of people in change programmes in the past and when we asked the simple question, ‘Why are you doing this? What’s the purpose?’, there really wasn’t a simple answer.
In one particularly bad example, we declined to continue working on a project, because the real answer to the question was ‘To paper over the cracks and make it look like we’re listening’. We’re not purpose experts, but like most humans, we can smell a rat.
After working with Haley, we were very taken with the idea of re-examining our purpose, as we have done consistently over the years . When undertaking your next project, or perhaps now you’re in the middle of it, consider these four things.
· Keep it simple. Don’t try to make the purpose cover everything
· Be specific and avoid woolly platitudes. E.g. “make your lives easier”
· Don’t say something it isn’t. You’ll get found out.
· Fully commit to the purpose and don’t compromise.
Purpose is not a one and done thing, but we are very clear about ours. It is to ‘bring content to life’.
We have a sub-set of having fun doing it, but we remain true to this in everything we do.
When purpose is right it’s powerful.
World leaders meeting with a 14 yr old is a pretty good proof point. You should be able to convince people at every level around you that you have a solid purpose and if you can’t, well then take another look.
Alternatively, call us, and we’ll take a look.