There’s a lot of talk about purpose these days and it seems like the ‘new fad’. I believe it is actually the new paradigm and we are on its tipping point. Society has evolved so much over the past few years, expectations have shifted, employees, consumers, stakeholders alike expect more of organizations in terms of ethics and integrity. They expect to see transparency, they want to see that businesses are recognizing their place and role in society and that they are contributing to making this world a better place. They want to understand the larger ‘why’ and know that their time and resources serve a greater purpose and makes a difference. As Simon Sinek skillfully reminded us, the Wright brothers, at the beginning of the past century, had one purpose in mind: develop the first controlled, powered airplane. They had no college education and no funding, yet they were consumed by a fundamental belief and were relentless in their pursuit to make it happen. They were able to inspire people around them. Even though there were others in the race, better qualified, better funded, better connected, they pursued and eventually were the first ones to build that engine. Purposeful leaders, like the Wright brothers, know why their organizations exist. They believe in it. They see their goal as larger than the business itself, larger even than that of their clients. Their pursuit is anchored in something much bigger than themselves and they know how to align everything around it. They believe in the potential to not only impact the organization itself but by a profound belief in its impact on a larger scale, on clients, stakeholders and ultimately, on society. People don’t follow purposeful leaders because they have to, they follow them because they want to. They understand the meaning and the purpose of their organization and they can connect their everyday actions to it. They believe in it. They want to see it through. Obstacles can come and go but the fundamental belief and pursuit is entrenched in their core.
Purpose-driven companies perform better
Purpose-led organizations have been demonstrated to not only galvanize employees’ engagement (younger and older alike) but also to lead to brand loyalty and increased financial performance. A recent longitudinal study by Ernst and Young has found that purpose-led businesses outperformed the S&P 500 by as much 10 times between 1996 and 2011. This seems like the pinnacle of leadership and organizational performance, an ultimate “secret weapon” difficult to replicate and thus creating a competitive advantage. And it is.
Purpose allows businesses to reach their highest potential
However, I would be remiss to stop here. In our practice at Umalia, we have found that discovering your purpose is not enough to create these kinds of results. It is the start of a journey, a journey that will need to anchor this purpose much deeper in the organization. This purpose will need to align with the organizational vision, mission and values of the organization. It should be in direct alignment with the organization’s brand and identity. It should also link with the strategic plan and the operational plan. Every facet of the business from its go-to-market approach to its people strategies and practices, its stakeholder engagement strategies and its community engagement programs should be infused with this purpose, so it can permeate every part of the organization. When this happens, it serves as the ‘glue’ in the organizational culture and it galvanizes people to unite and align, enabling the organization to reach its highest potential.
Purpose is the new business paradigm shift
You can probably understand why we firmly believe this is not a fad but rather a paradigm shift. It won’t go away. In fact, it’ll continue to grow. And those who will survive, those who will thrive, will be those that recognize the need to focus on it, in the short, mid and long term. Not just to find a purpose but also to identify how to connect it to their business strategy and how to live it on an everyday basis. How to make it part of their fabric. How to make it transpire in everything they do. They will be aware that it’s a journey and that it starts with a few simple steps. Isn’t that how all great journeys have started? Wasn’t it Lao Tzu, a great Chinese philosopher, who said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”? I encourage you to take that one step, that first step. Once you do, if well done and anchored, you will come back for the second, and the third and so on. You will be addicted to the results this will create on your organization. And you will start to see how you are creating sustainable business and societal value through your business model, ultimately achieving your organization’s highest purpose. I can’t wait to hear your stories. Please write to me at Lbourgeois@umalia.ca and stay in touch.