Given the high level of consensus around purpose and so many good reported results, why aren’t more companies motivating employees, attracting customers, and aligning suppliers with a strong purpose?
One clear reason is that it is not as easy at it may first appear. If you are struggling to embed Purpose in your business, you are not alone. Let’s look at three areas that can help you and your business.
1. Comes from the leader
If you are a leader in your company then purpose must come from you. It does not matter if you are the CEO of a global company or the head of the local PTA, as the leader you must embody the purpose of the organization.
If you do not yet have a company purpose, then you need to start with ‘Why’? Why did you start the company? What drives you? What are your passions? You can use your team members to contribute to come up with the distinctive, actionable purpose. It should be something you are truly connected to and you need to make sure that you stay engaged with your ‘Why’.
In fact, whether the purpose is new or established you need to stay engaged with it. Plan time each week, month, year to reflect on your why. Pick something that helps you switch off and reconnect with your values and put it in the calendar and do not move it.
For example, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, offers a great example of a purpose-driven leader. With a passion for nature, he started a business in the late 1950s making climbing gear for a few people in the Yosemite mountains. Today, Patagonia is a $200 million dollar company, widely recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability. Throughout his career Yvon would take time out to reflect and reconnect with his purpose by taking regular wilderness trips to connect with the natural world.
Ultimately you must be genuine and you, the leader, must walk the walk, talk the talk. Authenticity is key. The leader needs to have the personal will, courage, and compassion to take responsibility and actively model the vision expressed in the purpose statement and use it to motivate employees. The employees will follow your example and it will be you that will help them to embed it in their day to day working lives, it will be you that needs to inspire consistency across many disciplines and many activities.
2. Communication, communication, communication
Once you have your purpose, you need to communicate it and share it. You need to make your purpose crystal clear to all. If it’s not real or believable, it will inspire cynicism rather than trust.
A key tip is to start internally with your own team in your business. Share the why with your employees and make sure every person in the organisation is truly committed to it and aligned with it. Make it clear everywhere and all the time. You could include it on your branding, write it on the walls of the office and put plaques on desks all reinforcing the same message. It has been said of truly purpose driven companies that the purpose of their business is as clear as the name on their building and not simply another page in their HR book.
However, you cannot simply tell your employees once or just add it to a logo. You need to remind your employees often about how the purpose is playing out, you need to be constantly talking about it. You could have a spotlight moment at weekly team meetings where someone shares an example of the purpose in action. This helps to make the purpose become part of everyday life rather than just a statement on the website and it helps to ensure that everyone is clear about the purpose and what it looks like.
What you do internally can then be reflected externally through all external touchpoints. This can include blogging, social media, content creation, branding but also daily interactions with suppliers, 3rd parties and customers. You purpose needs to be clear not only internally but externally too. Think about all that you do and how your purpose can be reflected in it.
3. Way of life
Your purpose is clear, it has been communicated internally and externally but your purpose will not then automatically be integrated into your business. Purpose should shape every element of your business model and every decision should be looked at in terms of purpose. Here are some examples:
- Leader must insist that purpose drives strategy
- Decision making takes the purpose into account
- Purpose is used to shape the way the company is organised
- It is used in recruitment and retaining of staff
- Performance metrics and incentives aligned with purpose, so that the link between purpose and performance is explicit for each employee.
What does good look like?
There can be barriers, especially from short-term shareholder pressure, but these can be overcome. The key is consistency. You will know when your purpose is embedded, you will know from your employees: you will start to hear phrases such as the following;
“I understand how the work I do fits into the bigger picture.”
“I know exactly why I am here and the role I play.”
“We don’t make widgets. We improve lives.”
Creating and embedding a purpose is not an easy task, it takes work and constant improvement, it is a process and a continuous journey. However, it is so important to do and to do it well. An article in Marketing Week at the end of January summed it up, “2019 looks set to be the year that brands are more committed to social change than ever before… but in order to make an impact and be taken seriously by consumers, any act has to be in line with a brand’s wider values and filter through to every aspect of the company.“