Connecting People to Purpose (Part 2)
In part 1 of this blog we looked at compelling evidence for the benefits organisations can reap by connecting their employees to their core purpose. Here we dig a little deeper, exploring the steps your organisation can take to get there.
So, how do you then go about realising these benefits and achieving the potential outcomes purpose can deliver? We believe there are 3 key steps:
- Find your purpose
- Embed it into your business
- Connect your people to it.
Step 1: Find your purpose
The first question on most people’s minds, and the challenge raised by senior leaders and communication professionals alike, is ‘doesn’t a meaningful purpose have to be about saving lives or saving the world?’
While it’s a fair point that it’s easier for some organisations than others to find a compelling purpose, we would argue that if you provide a product or a service that someone else is willing to buy, then you have the ability to improve the lives of others. Even if it’s small scale, it’s important to the individual, or the organisation, or the community to whom you are providing that product or service.
In our experience, a lot of organisations tend to express their purpose in the same functional language as their mission, and talk about what they do, what they provide, rather than why they do it.
Instead, your ‘why’ is best expressed in terms of the impact you make in your customers’ lives. Expressing your purpose in these terms helps people to connect with your brand emotionally as well as rationally – with hearts as well as minds.
Take, for example, Unilever. Their purpose is ‘Making sustainable living commonplace’. Expressed in a more functional way however they could say ‘We provide foodstuffs, toiletries and household cleaning products to millions of customers worldwide’. See the difference?
The elements of a good purpose statement
Step 2: Embed your purpose into your business and decision-making process
A HBR and EY study  showed that while the execs surveyed almost overwhelmingly agreed that purpose could be a powerful lever, many of them had yet to embed it in their business. The most common barriers were:
- Short-term shareholder pressure
- Unaligned systems and infrastructure
- Lack of aligned performance targets and incentives
The common theme here is alignment. The way we see it is that your core purpose drives and guides everything in your business, and so everything aligns to it:
Purpose then provides direction and clarity and informs every aspect of the decision-making process, rather than being an adjunct to it.
This is easier said than done in any business, particularly in existing businesses who are defining or reassessing core purpose. How to embed purpose into every aspect of your business will, to some degree, be unique to each individual business, but the more authentic your purpose, the easier it will be to integrate into all aspects of what you do.
Step 3: Connect your people with your purpose
We want people to connect rationally and emotionally; to understand it and believe it.
Most of us have heard the story about how, during a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”. “Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
We want to get all our employees responding like the NASA janitor, to connect their roles to the overall organisational purpose, and understand (and feel proud of) how and what they contribute.
We believe that in order to feel connected employees need:
- the confidence that their personal beliefs ‘fit’ the organisation, and they can be themselves;
- belief in the organisation and what it stand for; and
- belief that their job contributes to the purpose of the organisation.
Organisations can respond to this need in a selection of important ways, including:
Build the foundations:
- Listen to what employees think about the purpose, or what the purpose could be
- Understand employees’ experiences of purpose in action, or potential gaps and barriers
- Involve employees in development of a purpose or how to refresh an existing one.
Bring it to life:
- Articulate your purpose and provide a clear narrative
- Appeal to employees by making it a compelling, visual, and memorable part of your brand
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! Create a campaign and tell regular stories about purpose in action.
Make it real:
- Align your purpose to everyone’s job function as well as to values and behaviours
- Demonstrate how leaders are role models who live the purpose every day in all they do
- Sustain and repeat; keep purpose visible and talked about beyond the end of any campaign.
Making change happen
Having a clear purpose embedded in your business can benefit your organisation in a number of ways.
It helps your brand to have competitive advantage; the communities in which you operate to know what you stand for; and your customers to be more engaged.
And importantly for your employees, it can help leaders to be more inspiring, managers more effective, and colleagues to understand the role they play.
Ultimately an embedded purpose helps everyone to make better choices to enable organisational success. This is why you should focus on your ‘why’.
To learn more, or to arrange a bespoke purpose-focused digital Discovery Session tailored to your organisation, please contact:
0151 494 5844
 Harvard Business Review, sponsored by EY, ‘The Business Case for Purpose’, 2015