Dear leader, do you have your organization’s purpose defined?

Agne Nainyte
July 19, 2021

The word Purpose has become quite a recent buzzword. Many people have started to talk about finding their life’s purpose, beyond working and earning an income for their family. More often, we’ve started to see people taking bold and weird moves – like quitting a well- paid corporate job to become a nurse, start a company which works on new technology to improve elderly care, retire in your early 40s to establish an NGO for animal rights… you get my drift.

In many cases these moves are triggered by people who feel they have a lousy job – doing work which feels useless. What is the point of me preparing those management reports which are read by nobody? Why do I need to spend at least four hours a day to reply to all these emails which talk about nothing? Am I really going to use my brain for this? Why did I even go to university?

Although the millennial generation has largely been labeled by being the purpose generation –  people who prioritize purpose-driven brands and employers, in my experience, other generations are not lagging behind this need either. It is simply natural that people want to dedicate their work towards solving the big world problems instead of helping companies to pursue profits only.

In fact, calling purpose seeking as a trend is outdated. It has rather become a true norm, not only among NGOs and social enterprises, but also business organizations. McKinsey research says that only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs think they should be pursuing profits and not distract themselves with social problems.

My purpose discovery journey started in rural Uganda working with Integrated Villages NGO

Why is it that important organizations have a purpose?

Our world has massive problems which we are still struggling to solve. Think of climate change, flora and fauna on the verge of extinction, poverty, wars, lack of drinking water, pollution… We live in a time when business organizations cannot ignore their good citizen role in helping to alleviate these problems.

While on one side, it feels like a duty to do something, on another side lies the pure enjoyment for business leaders to work on something meaningful. This line of reasoning should cover your limbic brain part which is responsible for emotions and feelings. If you want to feed your rational brain part, I will give you some food there, too!

Organizations which have a strong purpose act like a magnet for top talent – people who are desired by many companies. In fact, many business executives confirm that attracting top talent is becoming one of their biggest pain points. And in the last analysis, it’s the people that make the biggest difference.

Purpose also motivates employees to go that extra mile. Recently, I was listening to a presentation where an engineer proudly showcased his app created for healthcare workers to administer COVID-19 test results. The audience was amazed how fast this app was developed and asked what has played the key role in this success.

The engineer replied, “Well, there was such a strong purpose and need for it…” Yes! Cloud technology played a role there, too, but his first response was related to the meaning he saw in doing this work.

We desperately need more companies which dare to step up in solving the biggest world's problems

As a leader you can create a great performance management structure or provide a cool office environment, but nothing can replace a strong purpose sentiment. Purpose unites like-minded people to work towards a common goal – and success just happens. Because it simply doesn’t feel like WORK anymore.

Lastly, we should not forget that the world’s biggest problems can become the biggest markets! For example, after admitting what a small salary African drivers are getting, Mogo Finance which is headquartered in the Baltic state of Latvia, decided to create a business which supplies drivers with affordable loans. It not only appeared to be a great business idea, but also enabled local drivers to start becoming more financially independent.

How do you define your organization’s purpose?

I hope by now you are convinced that your organization's purpose is not a nice to have thing, but rather a mission-critical component for your business. Naturally a question emerges: where to start and how.

Firstly, I believe it’s important to be authentic once you think of your purpose. You cannot fake it – you truly need to believe it. Sometimes you can spot quite controversial examples. For example, a beverage producer sponsoring programs which help to fight children's obesity, but still producing sugary sodas and selling them at schools. Please, don’t go there!

Often, companies are established by passionate founders who create a new business with a strong sense of addressing a certain problem. However, after a while, the business can grow so big that an insurgent mission (the term used by Founder’s Mentality book authors) is lost. This means that leadership needs to immediately rediscover and communicate why a company exists and what makes them special.

Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why talks about the Golden Circle concept which explains how companies can differentiate themselves from the gray mass. Although the majority of the enterprises start with WHAT they do, he says you should start with the WHY. A why is your belief – that’s it! And, believe me, people really care about it.

After you’ve communicated your WHY purpose, it’s okay to talk about the HOWs. This is about the decisions you take to actualize your belief. And, finally, you will get to your WHATs. These are the results of those actions – everything you do: products, services, marketing, PR, culture and people you hired.

In order to make your purpose come alive, it’s important to say and do things which reflect your belief. Otherwise, it won’t be authentic and nobody will believe you.

Although the Golden Circle concept sounds extremely simple, in practice it’s not easy to define a strong WHY. If you feel completely lost and don’t have enough inspiration to proceed, I would highly encourage you to look at the UN sustainable goals.

Just glance at these 17 super important goals and pick one or a few which you care about most. This can be a great starting point to define how your organization or department can contribute to society. Trust me, doing at least a small thing in one of those areas will feel amazing and make your organization very proud. It’s very unlikely you will get anything wrong there.

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If you feel your organization is still lacking a clear purpose sentiment, as Nike would say, “Just do it!” Get started with raw ideas and don’t forget to involve your staff in brainstorming. And if you feel like taking an extra step and becoming legally accountable for your purpose, consider becoming a benefit corporation. In my recent 2 minute video you will get a model in-depth explanation of this concept. I wish you success in your journey and please let me know your thoughts and experiences.

If you are interested to deep dive into organization purpose topic more, I would recommend these three books (includes affiliate links which means that if you decide to purchase by clicking on it, I will get a small % which will go to Integrated Villages NGO fund).

  1. Exponential organization by Salim Ismail
  2. Start with WHY by Simon Sinek
  3. The Founder's mentality by Chris Zook and James Allen

Originally this article was posted at website.

Written by
Agne Nainyte
Digital Transformation Consultant, Schuberg Philis
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