purpose

Want an organisation that moves and grows? You’ll need motivation.

3 minute read

The word ‘motivation’ has its roots in the Latin movere, meaning ‘to move’ and one highly effective way to unify people and provide motivation is through a sense of purpose.

‘Purpose’ is your long-term vision for your business: what it does to make a difference. It connects to individual employees to help them understand ‘why’ and how they contribute.

What is a purpose?

Language can often be imprecise here, and descriptors are sometimes interchangeable. Purpose-driven organisations are also referred to as ‘mission-driven’ or ‘ideal-driven’. Sometimes the purpose itself is the ‘brand’ for the company, or it’s described as its ‘philosophy’.  The simplest way of thinking about it is that a company’s purpose is the ‘why’ – why it exists, what role it plays in society, the world and in customers’ lives. That’s the company’s mission – a goal which is not (just) about profit. EY, which carried out an extensive piece of research on the idea of purpose in business, defines it as ‘an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation’.

The challenge for leaders is about being able to respond fast without losing your sense of direction.”
Purpose has frequently been used as a marketing tool, helping brand communications move to a more emotional positioning (famous examples include Unilever’s ‘Dirt is Good’, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ and Procter & Gamble’s ground-breaking work on Always and Pampers). Product brands which have a connection to human needs are defined as purpose driven and this emotional connection to ‘why’ can be incredibly powerful. However, where purpose is particularly relevant for those leaders wanting to move faster is in defining your organisation brand – what your company stands for. This may sometimes include standing for something that plays a wider corporate or social role, though not necessarily. ‘Purpose’ could be playing a role that makes people’s lives more fun, more efficient, easier or better:

Lego’s purpose is ‘to inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future – experiencing the endless human possibility’ – summarized as ‘to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow’.

● The cult brand Patagonia was founded in 1973 and has a ‘triple mission’, which is to ‘build the best products, do no unnecessary harm and to use business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis’.

● The budget hotel Premier Inn’s purpose is simple, defined as ‘making our guests feel brilliant through a great night’s sleep’.

Purpose attracts purposeful people

Purpose gives employees and customers something beyond a product and an opportunity to consume or work for money. It’s about being part of something larger. It will attract, motivate and energize your people, simplify decision-making at speed, and allow an empowered, lean and agile leadership approach.

In an EY study of 500 global leaders, 89 per cent of those surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drove employee satisfaction; 84 per cent said it could affect an organisation’s ability to transform, and 80 per cent said it helped to increase customer loyalty.

Purpose clarifies and focuses decision-making

Leadership today involves operating in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. The challenge for leaders is about being able to respond fast without losing your sense of direction.

Your company needs a central organizing principle to help unify, clarify and focus everyone to help them continue to move in the right direction, whatever winds of change are buffeting them.

A sense of purpose helps protect for the long term, and it helps accelerate your organisation in the short term. It acts as both the foundation for the future and the ‘filter’ and focus for the immediate prioritization challenges you face.

How to use your purpose to drive pace – three steps

DEFINE IT: Get a team together to define a credible articulation of where you are going and your role in the world. Make it true, relevant and clear. Give people the destination to aim for.

LOVE IT: Articulate it as clearly and compellingly as possible. You may turn it into a ‘story’ that engages – it may drive your internal communications (and your external ones) – but do it in a way which is crystal clear using human and direct language and which builds on the truth about the people you want to believe in this … your people and your customers.

LIVE IT: Understand and define your purpose. Communicate it relentlessly, consistently and authentically – it should be part of everything you do and should help you decide what you don’t do. Make sure that all senior leaders buy into this, share it and live it.

A warning: Words on a wall are not enough.

Purpose is most valuable if used by leaders who make sure this moves far beyond communication. It is about much more than what you say. It is about what you do and about how you behave; it is about how you attract, retain and motivate; how you make decisions, and how you unify silos, individuals, projects and the business behind a purpose beyond just making profit. Then it becomes a high-velocity tool which will help accelerate your progress.

Looking at how to articulate your organisation purpose? Want to align your senior team behind your purpose? Let’s have a coffee and a chat.

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Sophie Devonshire

Experienced business leader, entrepreneur & brand specialist who works with senior leaders to grow businesses at pace and with a clear sense of purpose. Author of Superfast: Lead at Speed published by John Murray Press, the #1 bestseller in Change Management books on Amazon.
Sophie Devonshire

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