Purpose Matters in Organizations
In recent months, I have had many intellectually stimulating conversations centered on “purpose.” These conversations have not been limited to individuals in a particular sector, nor from a specific geography, or even of a certain age group or socio-economic class. While these purpose conversations may be characterized by some as the topic du jour, it is clear to me that individuals today are highly motivated to seek out purpose-oriented organizations that are in alignment with their own values and desires.
For anyone who has been introspective around purpose themselves, it is not surprising to learn that individuals are talking less about how we should do things and are instead focused on why we are doing them. This focus on understanding the why has been widely popularized in recent years by Simon Sinek’s TED talk appropriately titled “Start With Why.“Sinek encourages individuals to find “the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.”
So, how exactly should an organization – be it a business, nonprofit or government agency – align around purpose and encourage individuals to find and live their “Why”?
The first fundamental for creating such a purpose-driven organization is an authentic commitment of executive leaders to live with purpose themselves. Through their own actions and example, leaders are able to deepen relationships, establish trust and foster an organizational culture reflective of purpose.
In addition, leaders need to passionately inculcate purpose-driven attitudes and behaviors throughout the organization. One way to do this is to publicly share their own purpose so that employees can have the opportunity to reflect on their personal purposes and motivations. By fostering these communities of conversation within the workplace, employees can begin to explore their “Why.”
Purpose-aligned activities have also been shown in numerous neuroscience studies to positively connect an individual with an organization. Our brains are literally wired for increased happiness and pleasure when activities we are involved in are more meaningful. When individuals are working together for a common goal, reaching the objective therefore becomes joyful for all. While this effect can certainly be achieved by working alone, it is amplified when we work in teams. Accordingly, a purpose-driven organization will highly encourage teamwork among employees and collaboration across teams.
Any organization can – and should – create a culture of purpose as every individual has the need that their life is in service to something good and that their activities have meaning. For the organizations that can attract and retain purpose-oriented individuals as their employees, a substantially higher level of performance will be achieved on several dimensions: productivity, innovation and happiness – all ingredients for long-term success.
Purpose will have then become a truly competitive advantage for your organization by improving the lives of your employees and clients alike.