Organisations with 'purpose' can be exceptional

Organisations with 'purpose' can be exceptional

A while back, whilst running a digital agency, I accepted an invitation from a client who supplied HR consultancy to brokerage houses in the City of London, to attend one of their training sessions. This was a standard approach as understanding an organisation's purpose when working with them provides strong signposts when crafting their digital strategy. Often, clients would provide guided tours around their factories or office, bars or restaurants to introduce me to their team and services, but this client allowed me to anonymously mingle with their clients. My initial belief that the training would be a little staid was cast aside within a few minutes when one of the attendees piped up that a prior session had 'changed their life' (for the better). Think about that for a second. We're talking HR consultancy, not miracle makers. The consultancy had the simple tagline that their role was 'to make a difference'

There is a difference between a mission statement and the underlying purpose of an organisation. To a degree they are symbiotic but a mission statement is generally about how an organisation will add shareholder value, whilst the purpose of a organisation is it's underlying reason for it's existence and core values. 

The Harvard Business Review (HBR), in their July 2018 edition, published an interesting article about the role of 'Purpose' in an organisation and how it can drive profitability and reduce staff turnover. 

Lots of people don't really buy into the notion of purpose. Whilst businesses may have a clear mission statement this doesn't always result in staff going 'over and beyond' to create or deliver something exceptional. Indeed, if things are going ok, then the idea of a higher purpose may be regarded cynically as empty, simplistic rhetoric. But, if there is a need to change, to evolve, to achieve something that may otherwise be unattainable then the notion of a higher shared purpose may be the enabler. 

HBR, in their article provide a framework to help guide leaders:

1. Envision an inspired workforce - employees and the organisation form a contract for the supply of services, and human nature dictates that the employee will do the agreed amount but no more unless there are incentives to do so. To change this, you need to have 'purpose-driven' employees who take ownership of their role. 

2. Discover the purpose - Not one for a task force, the higher purpose already exists and can be uncovered with empathy and asking employees the right questions. 

3. Recognise the need for authenticity - You and everyone else in the organisation needs to live by the purpose. If the purpose is authentic then it will drive every decision and will result in doing things other organisations do not. 

4. Turn the authentic message into a constant message - Purpose is ongoing and is not a time delineated objective. 

5. Stimulate individual learning - encouraging staff to think, learn and grow will strengthen their bond with the purpose. 

6. Turn managers into purpose driven leaders - purpose is frequently driven from the lower levels of an organisation, connecting leaders to the purpose will help communicate the purpose throughout the organisation. 

7. Connect people to the purpose - employees need to drive the purpose rather than it be top-driven. 

8. Unleash the positive energisers - within every organisation are mature, purpose-driven employees with an optimistic orientation who can take the initiative. 

The HBR article does go on to state that a higher purpose does not always guarantee economic benefits, but the research shows a positive impact on both operating financial performance and forward looking measures for many organisations. Indicating that purpose, is not just a lofty ideal but can have practical, positive impacts for the organisation. 

For the full HBR article please visit

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