As the school year ends, university commencement speeches around the globe are encouraging students to find their passion and pursue their purpose. Great words of feel-good advice to be sure, but what does that even entail? Does anyone have a user manual for this whole purpose thing?
Why yes, yes we do. Take advantage of the slower summer months to discover what we have learned about building a purpose-driven organization, and reassess what purpose means to your company’s long-term success.
No need to pull out the dictionary; you probably instinctively understand what working at a purposeful workplace looks like. The flow, the feeling that your work creates an impact, the knowledge that you’re part of a community of team members who share the same sentiment.
Purpose-driven organizations just feel different. They foster employee growth by encouraging learning, creating opportunities, and allowing team members to try unique problem-solving approaches. They analyze their company’s goals and impact, and empower each employee to participate in making these aspirations a reality.
On the other end of the spectrum are organizations full of zombie-like employeeswho go about their mundane workday waiting for the clock to hit five. They exhibit stagnant growth and lack engagement because employees don’t see a reason for showing up every day.
It’s not only atmosphere that separates these two kinds of workplaces. LinkedIn and Imperative found that over a three-year period, more than half of organizations with a clearly defined and well understood purpose grew by 10%. Additionally, 85% of purpose-driven companies showed positive growth in general. Among companies that aren’t motivated by a cohesive purpose, more than 40% experienced revenue drops.
Purpose, Mission, Values… Are They All The Same?
On the surface, a purpose and a mission generally seem like two ideas that have a similar goal. This assumption is far from the truth. Think of purpose as the “why” and the mission as the “what".
For example, Toms founder Blake Mycoskie says the company’s mission is to sell shoes, while its purpose is to donate footwearto people in need. Apple’s mission revolves around being a leading computer company, but Steve Jobs’ purpose was to empower users with beautifully designed, innovative tech products.
In both of these cases, the mission and purpose statements share a correlation but the purpose is seen as the driving force for the mission. This gives you two options when designing your company’s purpose, whether you are a small, medium, or large organization.
You can start with the mission (to provide simple, customized onboarding software in Talmundo’s case) and then move on to your company’s purpose (to help organizations implement HR processes that promote employee engagement, reduce turnover, and save time and money).
Or, you can start with the purpose and then figure out how to make it happen via your company’s mission.
Getting Everyone On Board
Keep in mind that your purpose can change in the future. As your company adapts to a changing marketplace and learns how to better serve customers, your purpose may understandably evolve. It’s a good idea to set aside some time every year, and at milestone moments, to reassess whether your current purpose still applies. Survey employees about their definition of the company’s purpose and determine whether your purpose has morphed into something new.
Additionally, be aware that if the purpose of the organization is not implemented and employed by all members of leadership, it can create a sense of hypocrisy and animosity. Establishing a sense of purpose has to be a top-down approach.
At Adobe, for instance, senior leadership created a weekly vlog modeled after Zack Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns.” Titled Bradchat after Adobe’s senior vice president and general manager, the vlog features informal interviews with other Adobe managers and shares the company’s strategies and decisions with all employees. Talk about an innovative way to make employees feel connected and energized by the company’s purpose!
Countdown to Launch
As you can see, an organizational purpose goes deeper than promoting surface level feeling about a place of employment or appearing more altruistic to the public. A well-defined and accepted purpose drives employees to go beyond expectations and create an environment that naturally leads to better outcomes.