‘Purpose’ has been talked about for years.
But it feels like we are now at a tipping point where it is a necessary requirement rather than a nice to have for businesses as they look for more creative and effective ways to retain, engage and develop their best talent.
In this opinion piece I share my personal experiences, a view of what’s changed, why it’s important, and how to approach purpose for organisations and individuals.
I recently reflected on my own personal experiences with a purpose-driven organisation, and what happens when that is not visible, or feels disconnected.
I was lucky enough to start the early years of my career at a big name ad agency. For a couple of years I thought I’d hit the jackpot. The name, the prestige, the social life, friends for life, the expense account. And I progressed quickly.
But I couldn’t have felt less connected to the business. My own experience was one of unengaged team managers, no recognition, no interest in me and my development, and what I wanted from my career. Just a focus on delivering the work. I didn’t feel I belonged in a place where the reception was shiny white and receptionists were paid to dress according to the colour scheme.
Something didn’t fit and although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, it was the lack of emotional connection and shared purpose.
I then came across iris, at the time unknown, 3 years old with 30 people. I met the founder in my first interview who talked about the purpose of the business. At the time that was a simple but bold desire to do things differently and better, without bureaucracy or hierarchy, to challenge conventions and see how far they could go. It was intriguing and appealing, and it set the culture for the agency.
From day one the managing partner on my piece of business took the time to personally coach and teach me, and cared about my development. We celebrated together and were all rewarded when the company did well, which it did. And from the start I was given complete autonomy to go for it, total exposure and ownership of client relationships, the buck stopped with me.
My confidence and capabilities rocketed personally and professionally.
From the first year I was emotionally bound to that business and so began a 14 year career journey for me, and an unbelievable growth trajectory for iris.
THE TALENT CHALLENGE
According to Gallup, 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job.
Only 10% of employed Western Europeans are engaged at work; by comparison, the figure among US employees is more than three times as high at 33%. (Gallup: State of the Global Workplace Report, 2017)
And millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace with 60% open to new job opportunities. (Gallup: Millennials: The Job-Hopping Generation, May 2016).
They seek purpose, autonomy, and growth opportunities and will move around to find that.
HOW PURPOSE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Simon Sinek best articulates the benefits of purpose in ‘Start with WHY’ -
“People and organisations who know their WHY enjoy greater long-term success, command greater trust and loyalty among employees and customers and are more forward-thinking and innovative than their competition.
Used properly, it can be used to hire, to develop strategies and to communicate more clearly (internally and externally). The WHY can help set a vision to inspire people. The WHY can guide us to act with purpose, on purpose.”
A company purpose should define what the organisation stands for – its collective cause or belief. When done well it gives people a sense of identity, belonging and helps them make sense of their own individual contribution.
Let’s take a look at how two fast growing and innovative businesses approach purpose.
Dyson’s purpose is to make things work better through innovation, engineering and design. It gives them a platform for how they behave, rather than what they create, and takes them beyond vacuum cleaners to hairdryers, electric cars and far more. Dyson have enjoyed phenomenal global growth – 41% rise in profits in 2016, with 7,000 employees globally. Their global churn rate is just 9%.
OVO Energy’s purpose is to treat people fairly and make things simple. They have already expanded from a customer centric green energy supplier, to a nationwide electric vehicle charging network, and have grown by 61% each year since 2010, with over 1000 staff in just 7 years. They are No. 20 in Time Best Companies to Work.
Purpose-driven businesses, large or small, stand out with greater clarity and direction.
As Sinek says, “when a company has a strong WHY, it inspires trust and loyalty in its customers, clients, employees and supporters, all of whom will cheer you on in your cause.”
And the same is true for individuals.
If you can articulate what drives you, and what you want to achieve, and use that as your compass and to bring others with you on that journey, then anything is possible.
The businesses that support their employees on such a journey will create a growth environment, encourage entrepreneurialism, and emotional loyalty. It’s a demonstration that you care about your employees as individuals, and where their careers are going. And makes both your employees and your business stand out in the marketplace.
You will retain better people for longer. And unlock the full potential of their talent.
HOW TO DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE
Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed helping hundreds of individuals find their own purpose. At times it has definitely felt more of an art than a science and some people find it easier to articulate their purpose than others.
So I’ve been thrilled to discover Simon Sinek’s latest offering, FIND YOUR WHY – A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for you and your team. It’s a ground breaking approach for businesses, teams and individuals to discover their purpose, their WHY. Credit goes to David Mead and Peter Docker who have put Sinek’s original idea (Start with WHY) into practical use. They set out a simple and agile framework that is accessible, inclusive and actionable.
The process is as good as the outcome – easy to use, takes people on a shared journey, builds insight and self-awareness. All of which make the resulting purpose much more personal, more real, and more actionable.
I would go on but the book sets it out so clearly and takes just an evening or two to read.
I encourage all businesses and individuals to read it and try it.
My own WHY is to help people create a vision so they can make their future happen.
I work with talent-forward organisations who are interested in how purpose can propel their talent and their business.