So many companies talk about purpose, and too often the conversation quickly turns to corporate social responsibility efforts—doing good in the community and the world. In essence, they default to talking about a higher purpose. Sure, organizations need to be good corporate citizens and think about their impact on the world around them. But that needs to ladder up to the grand purpose of the organization: why you exist at all.
Your purpose as an organization gets you up every morning. It’s a magnet for talent and an inspiration for your workforce. It creates believers and evangelists and retains your most valuable people. It’s a pride point—a source of passion.
Your purpose also gives you direction. It unifies and galvanizes your workforce. It’s personal. It clarifies the roles and expectations of employees, and gives individuals an opportunity to align their personal brand, character, goals and values with the company’s.
When combined with a culture that empowers, your purpose can truly change the game in terms of productivity, business performance, job satisfaction and retention. In other words, your purpose can be a competitive advantage.
I had the pleasure of working with one particular company that embraced the idea of purpose so much that everyone in a management role was asked to share their personal purpose. This was a written description of what they personally wanted to contribute to the organization, rather than a summary of their individual job functions. Not only did the activity create synergy across the organization, it also allowed employees to see how their own values can guide their professional contributions. If that’s not inspiring and empowering, I don’t know what is.
So, what’s your purpose? Is that clear to candidates and employees? Do they know what they are contributing to holistically?
You might wonder if focusing too much on higher purpose can harm you. Well, it actually can. We recently conducted a study on mission-based organizations, and one of the key findings was that they ranked poorly among certain talent groups. Higher purpose, when emphasized too heavily, decreased interest and consideration among certain job functions (e.g., Finance and IT).
Candidates want to identify with your purpose and join your cause, but they have to see the immediate impact of their work on the world and understand how it will advance them professionally. They want the collective story of how they will personally contribute to your business and change the world. And don’t make the mistake of assuming your audience is a group of selfless do-gooders. That’s not the case.
My advice: Take the time to understand your people, purpose and culture. That powerful story will take your organization to new heights.