• Stevie Hanna

7 Take-Aways from Great Lakes GrowthWorks’ Event on Purpose in Business

This Monday, Great Lakes GrowthWorks had the pleasure and the privilege of hosting a community discussion on “The Role and Impact of Infusing Purpose in Your Work” at our office on Main St. About fifty local entrepreneurs and friends joined us to explore ways of understanding purpose and incorporating it into our work. We welcomed four inspirational leaders to share their experiences and perspectives: Bill Brinkerhoff, founder of Argus Farm Stop; Esther Kyte, associate director of partner relations for the Center for Positive Organizations; David Myers, founder of Mighty Good Coffee; and Annie Rubin, founder of Steeps Fitness.

Our panel of experts shared their valuable thoughts on how putting purpose at the heart of their business model enables their work to better recognize and meet the needs of their customers, whether that’s bringing psychological well-being and insights into a physical fitness program or helping local farmers connect with consumers. They answered important questions on how to communicate purpose, how to scale as organizations grow, and the ways that reconnecting with our younger selves can help hone purpose. Esther Kyte provided insights from the Center for Positive Organization’s research on the myriad ways virtuous qualities in organizations translate to profits and productivity. However, our discussion primarily centered on recognizing the lived realities of purpose and the diverse paths and strategies by which purpose comes to play a central role. We were able to identify these seven simple yet crucial things to keep in mind when developing your purpose:

  1. Some organizations start with a purpose in mind and others have to go through a process of retroactively discovering their purpose. And that’s ok. Esther shared with us a great story of how the quest itself to find purpose created amazing opportunities for both the bottom and top of an organization to reflect on and participate in a process that ultimate generated tremendous rewards. You don’t have to have an answer now, but an answer is definitely something worth pursuing. ​

  2. Purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose or world-changing. It’s not a competition. Purpose can seem like such a lofty word, but a purpose doesn’t have to center on world peace or eradicating poverty in order to be both deeply personally meaningful and have a positive impact on the community and lives of those around us. It’s about what we want to accomplish and how we want to engage the world, not what sounds best on paper. Don’t compare your purpose to another person’s.

  3. It’s easy to get caught up in a perceived need to do something “business-school worthy.” This can be very tricky. Many of us do feel pressure to live up to whatever we understand to be the expectations established by our education or background. We can get caught up in immediate practical needs and the years fly by. For some of us the challenge is to remain thoughtful and focused on developing our focus and letting it guide those practical decisions. For others, maybe the solid foundation built over the years enables us to pursue purpose more intently. Or maybe those experiences built up over the years give us the drive to walk away from a dissatisfying situation and start something new.

  4. We change. Our lives change. And purpose can change, too. As time goes by, purpose evolves and should be reexamined no matter what extent we have previously been driven by purpose. Life events can take us in new directions that we would never expect or which may not have been relevant before. Stay open and responsive to changes in purpose.

  5. Negative experiences and dislike can shape our purpose as much as things we enjoy. Understanding the things that don’t make us happy can empower us to make better decisions about the things we do want to dedicate ourselves to, but that unhappiness can impact the ways we develop whether or not we are conscious of it. By reflecting on and using the things that don’t interest or inspire us, they become a powerful tool to guide our educational and professional choices.

  6. As purpose and organizations evolve, so too must the methods of communicating that purpose. The size of an organization can definitely affect the way that purpose is communicated and instilled in its members. If there are a lot of people involved, it can grow more complicated but these large groups also tend to have more resources to invest in training and management. As purpose and organizations evolve, so too must the methods of communicating that purpose. Yet even in the largest organizations there can be great value in a bottom up approach to discussing purpose, as members at all levels find their personal connection and contribution to the organization’s purpose.

  7. Putting purpose front and center leads to making the right decisions. When the purpose of your organization is upfront and crystal clear, it doesn’t just help communication, it can lead to better decision making without labored debate. When the mission of an organization is thoroughly embedded, it can guide actions and responses even beyond immediate questions of sales. This level of consistency and sincerity in turn conveys authenticity and strengthens the brand.

Thanks again to all of the people who participated and helped to make this event so special! We especially appreciate Kate Roos, director of the Aartworks Project; Matt Tait, founder and lead product designer at Tait Design Co.; Ryan Van Bergen, co-owner and head coach at Blue Lion Fitness; and Josh Charlip, founder and president of Cool Jack’s Handcrafted Cookies and Ice Cream, for their wonderful presentations and insights into purpose. We hope to see you all again next time!