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"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”

– Warren Bennis

5 steps to implementing organizational purpose

Part 2 of our series on purpose

STEP 01 – INTERNALIZE THE CASE FOR PURPOSE

The most critical step is to understand and be convinced of the need for purpose in your organization. This is the foundation that will affect every other action. You need to have a clearly articulable reason – both to yourself and to your people – about why purpose is important in the first case. There are a few questions to consider:

Are you interested in purpose because it’s a trend?

We are social creatures that follow each other’s behavior – many times without giving it our own thought. Business leaders are no exception to this, and there are many ideas which are popular which compel people to adopt it – even if it may not be useful for them. In this case, purpose is useful to the vast majority of companies, but your reason for implementing it has to be right.

Do you clearly see the benefits?

As the goal is efficiency and results, any idea in business needs to have clear benefits for it to be adopted across the company. When it comes to a decision like purchasing a new software, it is much easier to evaluate the benefits, implementation and potential risks. As organizational purpose is intangible, it can be harder to see and measure the benefits of this change. This means you have to familiarize yourself deeply with the benefits such as increased engagement, productivity, brand equity and corporate innovation. And where possible, look at practical case studies of purpose in other organizations.

Are there deeper issues you are trying to compensate for?

Purpose could be said to represent the spirit of your organization. The intangible bind that holds everything together and animates the separate elements of your company. However, it is not the ultimate solution to all of your problems, and you need to ensure that you aren’t using it to fill holes in deeper cracks. For instance, if you have simply hired the wrong people, your culture is toxic or you don’t have a competitive product, purpose won’t magically fix these problems. It can however act as a catalyst to greater change and a new direction.

Are you committed to seeing it through?

Like with anything you are trying to convince someone about, you have to first convince yourself. If you haven’t fully bought into the idea, people will pick up on this and you will struggle to make the idea stick. Not only that, you won’t have the consistency and vigor needed to see the change through to fruition. It’s not something that will happen overnight – it takes sustained effort and champions that will lead the cause.

STEP 02 – INTERNAL AUDIT

As you are the captain of the ship, you set the pace for those that you lead. That means purpose has to come from the top – it has to start with you. Once you fully understand the need and benefits of organizational purpose, it is time to start looking within for the answers. Your next goal is finding and defining your purpose – and how it relates to your business.

Start by looking beyond business and think about your life as a whole. Is purpose something that you have thought about already in your personal life? If you haven’t, this is the place you want to start. You need to define what your values are, what you care about, what gives your life meaning and what changes you want to see in the world. Remember, you will be leading the cause for purpose in your organization, so you are the first person you have to sell it to. This means it has to be tied into something that matters to you personally.

Then you have to ask yourself why you got into this business in the first place. Was it just for practical reasons? Did you simply see a good business opportunity that you wanted to capitalize on? Or was there a pain you saw – a change you wanted to make in the market? Even if you are in business for purely pragmatic reasons, it is still possible to create a purpose that goes beyond financial gain. To do this you have to tie in values and meaning from your personal life, relate it to the work you are doing and see the bigger picture of your work.

STEP 03 – COMPANY & INDUSTRY AUDIT

Once you are equipped with a sense of meaning for yourself, you then must turn to the company and industry that you are part of. What your company does and the people you serve are the foundations of your existence. This means that any talk of purpose can only stem from, and build on this core function. If you are in the home care business for instance, it wouldn’t make sense for your purpose to be to create a more equitable society, as that is a goal that your operations has minimal impact on.

Take a look first at the industry you operate in. What is the base function in terms of economic output that your industry produces? Next, take it a step further and broaden your perspective. How is your industry connected to the greater whole? What other industries does it work side by side with? Without your industry, what would the effect be on others? How does your industry contribute to the social and environmental whole? Take note both of the positive and negative aspects as you can use these to create a greater meaning – either by amplifying the positive force or creating a cause to address the negative.

Now you want to think about what your company does and it’s unique place in your industry. Try to think of answers to the following questions:

  1. Why does your company exist?
  2. What are you doing differently from others?
  3. What are your company values?
  4. What makes your culture what it is?

Think also about your customers, as they can be a key inspiration about what your company’s purpose should be. Was there a time where you received a glowing review from a customer? What was it that they loved, how did you help them? Try to quantify and qualify the impact you have had in both data and personal stories.

STEP 04 – SELLING THE CHANGE

The hardest part comes in the form of selling the change within the organization. This is where you will encounter the challenges discussed in the previous article. If you fail to successfully convince the people in your organization about your purpose, you won’t realize the benefits that it can bring you. For there to be consistent implementation, everybody has to be on board and working in harmony.

Through the internal, industry and company audit, you should now have the building blocks to start constructing your purpose. You should now:

  1. Be convinced of the need for purpose
  2. Have an understanding of your personal purpose and how it relates to your business
  3. Understand how your industry is connected to and part of a social whole, including its impact
  4. Have an idea of your company’s attributes, including values, culture and history

Through this, you want to combine these elements to create different manifestations of what your purpose could be. The goal of which is to then create a greater sense of meaning that ties into something bigger than the individual elements.

Let’s say for instance that you are in the ink production business. On the surface, this may not seem like an industry or business that has a significant meaning. But when you look deeper, ink is an essential component of the printed word. Without ink, newspapers, publishers and any type of printed information would not be able to exist. Through this, examples of purpose could include:

  • Catalyzing the advancement of mankind through information flow
  • Facilitating the free exchange of ideas leading to greater understanding
  • Broadening the horizons of billions through education
  • Helping people make sense of the world around them

Once you have a general idea, you will need to make it more specific. Tie in the customers you work with, your company culture, values and personal purpose to create something that’s truly unique to your organization.

Once you have a purpose you can articulate, you will need to navigate the key roadblocks – the majority of which involve convincing stakeholders.

Employees

In order to invigorate your people with purpose, you need to find ways to tie each of their individual jobs into the greater company purpose. They need to see a direct connection through the work that they do and the impact your company creates. Ideally, you give them the freedom to define this themselves as they will take it more seriously when given ownership.

Departments

Each department must have a clear picture of the reason your company exists. Everything must come secondary to this reason, otherwise your departments will continue to focus on their specific domains, seeing themselves as separate silos. This in turn can lead to a compromise in your purpose as the teams aren’t aligned.

Leadership

It is important to account for the different leadership styles of your teams and departments. Sales leaders may require a different approach from HR leaders for instance. The former may be invigorated more by the emotional aspect, whereas the latter may be more interested in pragmatism. The message must be tailored to each person’s unique interest, function of work and leadership style.

Shareholders

With your backers, you need to make the business case for purpose. Assume that it’s all about the bottom line and create a message where purpose is directly tied to profit. Increase in brand equity leading to more customers, a more energized sales and marketing team and more innovative products are all angles you should convey.

STEP 05 – IMPLEMENTATION

With your people convinced, now begins the ongoing process of implementing purpose throughout your organization. To get the full effect of purpose, it needs to permeate all aspects of your business – becoming an energizing force that guides strategy and motivates people daily.

To achieve this, purpose must be baked into the culture. It must be the core focus that animates values, perspectives and behaviors. It is the one thing, if any, that needs to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue when asked about their job.

Daily routines

Companies and teams who have adopted agile methods usually have a 15 minute meeting every morning to prioritize tasks. You can take this concept and create a purpose driven meeting, where your company’s purpose is reaffirmed everyday. You can energize this with chants, speeches and rituals to add greater effect.

Stories of purpose

Find the people and communities that your business is helping. Invite them in and make them the guest of honor, allowing them to share personally how your team is directly helping them. Ask your team to also to share examples of how they see purpose being manifested on a daily basis – be that through solving customer problems or new ideas.

Share the metrics

On a regular basis, share the metrics of impact that your company is creating. Change the language to narrate a deeper meaning than business. How many stomachs are you filling everyday? How many people are you giving the ability to see clearly every week? How much hours of stress are you reducing per month?

Physical reminders

Create reminders of your purpose all throughout your office. Be that through branding, design or highlights of purpose driven activity.

Highlighting contribution

Make the effort to highlight how each individual and teams are contributing to your company’s purpose on a regular basis. The key is making people feel that their work is impactful and is not just economic in nature.

Role models

Purpose starts from the top, so it is important that you are thinking and living with purpose as the initiator of this change. You will also need to regularly ensure that your leadership team are too, as your people will directly follow their lead. Consider making it a habit to lead with purpose in all your meetings to remind people why you are here in the first place.

Extracurricular

To help your employees think beyond work, it is also advisable to sponsor activities which compliment your company’s purpose – something you may not practically benefit from. This sends a signal that you as an employer are committed to the greater good and are authentic in your intention.

This guide should give you a solid starting point to implementing organizational purpose. To get a more concrete understanding of purpose in the real world, we suggest studying companies that were both created with purpose and those that underwent the change of becoming purpose driven organizations. 

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