As discussed in my last blog entry, having a higher purpose is as important to the success, growth, sustainability, and overall “happiness” of business as it is for us as individuals. Several studies have shown that purpose-driven businesses are better at attracting and retaining talent, build more positive work environments, are attractive to customers, are good corporate citizens, and deliver superior (and sustainable) financial performance. But, once a business has defined a clear mission and purpose, how can it manifest it throughout the enterprise and imbed it in a way that drives the organization forward?
I don’t mean to gloss over how best to arrive at and gain consensus on a company mission/purpose. This requires thoughtful exploration – mostly uncovering what is already there in the minds and hearts of the company’s founders, leaders, and team members (rather than contriving a purpose that “the market will like”). At Great Lakes GrowthWorks, helping companies and brands to sharply define their purpose has become a key part of our consulting practice, but I will save some of the tips of the trade for another post at a later time.
Instead, assuming purpose is well-defined and clearly understood, let me make some suggestions for how purpose can be manifested in ways that drive growth, opportunity, and shared commitment for an organization.
Strategic filter for shaping the overall direction of the organization. A deep, values-based articulation of the organization’s purpose can provide both a screen and an inspiration for which growth directions the company should pursue. In a rapidly changing world, we are always faced with challenges and opportunities – some of which we are poised to address, and others that take us off course, to a place where the organization lacks the passion, values, and wherewithal to prosper. In my experience, using mission and purpose as the starting point for evaluating new ideas and directions, then supplementing it with a more left-brained assessment of the market dynamics, leads to pursuing paths that tend to help the organization thrive.
Mindset of service that impacts internal culture. As individuals, we are always our best selves when we think beyond ourselves, connecting to others and finding a way to serve. Patrick Lencioni, in his famous book “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” talks about the importance of finding relevance in your job – a sense that what you do matters to someone else. Companies can also manifest purpose through a mindset of serving others – that is, understanding and articulating who it is serving (customers, investors, employees, the community, etc.) and how, and behaving in a way that reflects that mindset.
A bridge to the aspirations of key external stakeholders. A natural component of being “of service” is to demonstrate an awareness of and interest in supporting the dreams and “purposes” of external customers, shareholders, business partners and collaborators, and the community at large. This is a great way to manifest the organization’s mission, and it often opens up new opportunities to fuel the organization’s growth and realize its dreams.
Marketing and recruiting tool. As a marketer by training, I appreciate the significant role that connecting at an emotional and values level has in attracting customers (as well as talent) to an organization. Nothing is more compelling than reflecting who you truly are as an organization – your passions, your mission, and what you value – in the messages you send to the outside world. People find it refreshing and compelling. Putting values and purpose front-and-center in marketing and recruiting messages reinforces why the organization exists and can attract the right people to support the company in that mission.
Tangible “giving back” initiatives. Creating company-wide initiatives and supporting individual employee efforts to give back to the community or causes that align with the company purpose create a visible way to manifest that purpose. Whether it is giving a share of profits to certain charitable organizations, or supporting employee charitable giving, or a variety of other approaches that go beyond charity, these tangible efforts can help amplify a company’s purpose in a compelling way. When this is done in an authentic way, it is seen as such by others. While people easily see through insincere messages of “we give to charity” (and those efforts do nothing to help focus and manifest the organization’s purpose).
Let me reinforce a point I have made before: being purpose-driven is not about competing to see which company (or individual) is the biggest do-gooder. As individuals and organizations, our purpose may or may not be something that addresses world problems or helps others in a highly visible manner. The important point is to be who we are – to live the passions and values we (as individuals or organizations) were born with and that fuel our growth. That is our job in life – and it is the job of the businesses and organizations of which we are a part.