We’ve used this quote a lot as a powerful rallying cry for the importance of business purpose. We work extensively in this area. Connecting individuals and teams to something bigger than themselves. Something that burns within and drives the business inexorably forward.
Pretty huge, that.
But on the eve of one of these very workshops a couple of weeks ago, having just finished my main, and my second drink (it had been a while since we’d eaten together) I sat back and asked a candid question of my business partner.
“Jonny, is this actually all a load of rubbish?”
The conclusion: In a way, yes.
The ensuing conversation was interesting, especially with what we were just about to deliver. Were we frauds? Should we have saved this conversation for another time? It felt risky, dangerous but also quite exhilarating.
The WHY, North Star, Just Cause, Purpose, Vision, Mission Statement.
There are a nauseating number of terms that are used to frame this kind of conversation or structure this kind of work.
And it’s quite fashionable at the moment for businesses to spend money on this stuff right now, and use this kind of language lest they be considered backward.
But It’s easy to get more and more distant from the point of the work in the first place.
It’s easy for it to become an exercise in wordsmithery, coming up with sentences and straplines that sound quite nice but mean rather little.
I just looked up the difference between some of the terms I quoted above. Google coughed up this:
“Purpose keeps you focused on why you exist, vision aligns you with your goal, and mission empowers how you will accomplish it.”
The more complicated the task becomes, or the more the number of things to “come up with” proliferates, the more pointless the work becomes.
You move further and further away from the purpose of defining your purpose.
And that is what’s a waste of time and money. Real business purpose is not.
A purpose is not words that you come up with for businesses and individuals to then remember. It shouldn’t have to be remembered.
It’s not a slide to pull up when people ask you about it.
Purpose is much much more like excavation to discover something that’s already there. Something that is.
The road to discovering it can be long and the exercises to frame this journey need to be simplified. That way the focus moves away from completing an exercise and towards finding the truth.
But if you focus on the truth, sitting in the potential discomfort of the journey, the work can be pretty special.
Few. We’re not frauds.
The science behind it and the impact of it.
Let’s start with the impact of purpose done properly.
Then we’ll get into the science behind its impact. It’s good to know why.
72% say purpose gives employees a far greater sense of fulfilment. It’s a key way to improve employee engagement.
Companies with higher employee engagement are up to 22% more profitable.
Engaged workplaces have 67% lower staff turnover.
I can go on. The economic argument for true purpose is clear.
But why is this?
It’s all about intrinsic over extrinsic motivation.
In order to tap into intrinsic motivation, you need to do more to serve the fundamental human needs of your people. After all, businesses are people for people.
And there’s a hierarchy for these needs based on the structure of the human brain:
- First comes safety: to what extent do people feel safe and supported to show up as their whole selves, to speak up and do their best work without fear?
- then connection: a sense of belonging, community, being part of something bigger than themselves and having purpose
- then comes Learning: that motivation and the right environment to challenge and improve what is, leading to growth and development
Promising young talent want all of these needs met. They might not consciously acknowledge and articulate it exactly as such. But these needs will drive their behaviour. They want to be involved and engaged beyond their role and its related tasks.
Your staff need to feel taken care of, like they belong and are part of something bigger that’s unique to your business. On top of this, if they feel that there’s ample opportunity for growth, they’ll be far more loyal, motivated and committed to the cause.
I mean, you do have to pay them a bit too. Building a great, purpose led culture doesn’t allow you to continually squeeze down staff costs because they just love work so much. But it does mean that their connection to your company goes beyond the merely functional.
But in order for all of this very real impact to be realised, the work on purpose has to be very real and truthful.
It cannot simply be an exercise completed by leadership to spoon-feed everyone else. Words on a wall in the office, on mugs, t shirts, hats or other branded paraphernalia will be met with cynicism. Purpose has to be lived within. For everybody.
So how do you get it right?
Here’s our guidance:
1.Narrow down your terms to frame the work
Be really specific and make sure that everyone involved understands those terms fully. Make it as simple as possible, because the work is hard enough. Otherwise you end up with that proliferation of interchangeable terms like “North Star”, “Vison”, “Purpose”, “Just Cause” etc that muddy the clarity of the objective ahead. The work begins to lose meaning.
We have our own terms and our own process to frame this work. If you want to hear more, we’d love to schedule a chat.
Depending on the size of your business, it might seem unrealistic to tear up any work that’s already been done and start again. But that’s not a reason to just leave it. We’ve seen the benefits above.
Start smaller and closer to home:
First apply the work on Purpose to you.
Get your team to do the same individual work on Purpose and support them in any way they need.
Then invite your team together to look at your shared Purpose
No involvement, no engagement. No engagement, no commitment.
It has to mean something. For everyone. And it’s easier to start small. With the people that work together every day.
In the largest of organisations, an overarching shared purpose that unifies the business is essential. But there has to be something more local and accessible for people to engage with. That way, people feel they have agency in the business which satisfies that foundational human need for connection. Hence the suggestions above.
3.Allow it to be broken
As a leader, if you’ve done some work to articulate a shared purpose for your team, you have to stress test it and allow it to be broken by the people that it’s for.
It requires bravery to understand that this is a conversation starter, not any finished article. Your team must be empowered to engage with and take ownership over it. That way it becomes more than a collection of words.
As one of our clients brilliantly put it: “If they build it, they won’t break it.
So, is purpose pointless?
As soon as finding or articulating your purpose becomes an exercise in itself, detached from its own true purpose – don’t waste your time and money on it.
When it’s approached in the right way for the right reasons. I.e. as above. It has the power to unlock your potential, transform business culture and accelerate the right kind of growth.
This is the real conclusion that we came to on the eve of that workshop. Whilst it seemed a flippant question to start – “is this all a load of rubbish?” Reconnecting with the purpose of our workshop on purpose was essential for sharpening our focus in delivery and ensuring that it was money well spent by our client.
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The impact of The Speakers’ Gym™ at Mako can only be described as transformational. Over a three month period, they helped transition a group of individuals into a highly collaborative and consultative leadership team. Chris and Jonny have a unique ability to connect individuals with their true purpose, driving them towards self-reflection and ultimately growth. Overall the entire experience of working with them has been a pleasure and I am deeply grateful for their impact. They more than surpassed my expectations and I look forward to working with them again in the future!
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