Purpose. Psychologically speaking, it’s one of the defining characteristics of the human race. We crave it, this fundamental signifier of a fulfilling life. It gives us a reason for being beyond simply existing, because, as humans, we want to accomplish something truly meaningful. Something that allows us to wholly engage with some aspect of the world beyond ourselves.
When it comes to purpose in work, a quick google of ‘Is purpose important in business?’ tells us it absolutely is. But understanding why needs a more human response. I caught up with Write the Talk’s MD, Anthony Madigan, after his recent webinar on the power of purpose, to find out just why it’s so important. Here’s what I learned.
#1 Purpose brings meaning to our work.
Some of us might find our sense of purpose in a hobby or starting a family, others in volunteering in the community, but for a lot of us, the need for purpose rears its head between the hours of 9-5. That’s right, work can bring us the sense of value we crave, give us stability and direction. Purpose is a way of bringing meaning to our work, helping us to understand why we do what we do – for the business and beyond.
If you want, as you should, the people in your organisation to have that strong sense of purpose, then you need to give them something to believe in. Something that connects everyone together, that makes them want to push in the same direction to achieve something incredible.
#2 Employee engagement can’t exist without purpose.
They go hand in hand. With an increased sense of purpose in our work comes better engagement, and the benefits, both culturally and commercially – are immense. Understandably then, when employees lack purpose, the problems start – serious psychological ones. Health and wellbeing start to suffer, stress levels rise and sick days mount up. Employee engagement is just one reason that you need a strong business purpose.
We can take this a step further and make the link to financial strength. Investors are increasingly looking to plough their pounds into purpose-led businesses, because they believe they’re going to be financially stronger. They know that engaged employees will perform better, which will be reflected in boosted revenue, profitability and share price.
#3 Creating a purpose just to chase the consumer pound won’t work.
As consumers, we might choose to purchase goods from an organisation because we believe the messages they’re telling us. But those same messages won’t work for employees. For employees to believe in their business’s purpose and for the business to be truly successful, that purpose has to resonate from the inside.
It’s easy for brands to outwardly say ‘This is our reason for existing, this is the reason we care’ and convince customers with some clever must-buy marketing. But it’s not as easy to convince employees. Because they live and breathe your business, they know whether what you’re telling customers is the truth or not. If you do the right things, for the right reasons, good things will happen externally. That’s the secondary benefit to identifying your purpose.
#4 Purpose is more than a shared OMG experience.
Over the past few months, we’ve experienced an unusual phenomenon. Coronavirus, despite physically separating us, has bought us closer together. Our shared purpose has been to do what we can to slow the spread of the disease. In the business world, our teams have been united in keeping business afloat by any means possible – whether it’s a Corona-era rebrand, a collaborative effort to get merchandise online, or a complete business overhaul. We’ve all emotionally invested ourselves in a common purpose, but what happens when a vaccine makes Coronavirus a small blip in our past? Something more sustainable needs to replace it.
#5 Purpose doesn’t begin on a clean sheet of paper.
Your purpose is born from your organisation’s history. You can’t rewrite your past no more than you can predict the future. To identify your purpose, you have to tap into your history. Why did your business start? What were the big decisions? What milestones have you hit? What challenges have you faced? Your purpose is coloured and shaped by what’s happened in your story so far.
But it’s not always easy for management teams armed with Sharpies to conjure up a purpose. It takes an external perspective to ask the right questions, remain unbiased and understand what your employees believe right now, if you’re going to shape a purpose that will guide you into the future.
#6 A purpose that doesn’t work is just an unsuccessful marketing campaign.
The way you express a purpose is not in words that talk to consumers or buyers. It’s in words that talk to the people in your organisation, because that’s what it’s for. It comes from why? For example, a company that makes parts for tractors may seem mundane to outsiders. But actually, that tractor-parts company might believe tractors should be as well built as fighter jets, so to them, building parts is a highly skilled, high quality engineering role. The purpose is working if the people in that business are thinking, ‘Yes, we’re raising the bar on tractor parts. We’re proud of our engineering and what it helps customers achieve.’
Purpose should be transformative in the way it makes people feel.
Which is why creating a purpose isn’t enough on its own. It needs to be embedded within an organisation and spread far and wide, and not just once – constantly and consistently. That’s why creating a strong purpose-led story for your business is so important. A script that never gets into production isn’t going to gain an audience.
#7 There’s no such thing as a right or wrong purpose.
In the late 80s in certain parts of the financial services industry, purpose at work generally meant making as much money as possible. Businesses attracted employees who shared that purpose, too. It doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do, but it worked for them at the time.
What’s important is how well your organisation’s purpose inspires people to do what you want them to do. It doesn’t have to be an idea that’s uniformly good for the world. For instance, how would a mining company develop a universally ‘good’ purpose? It has to make people believe that what they are doing is important for a reason.
So there you have it, 7 thoughts about purpose from Write the Talk’s MD. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to create a powerful purpose for your business, then sign up to our newsletter below. Each month we collate industry insights, provide exclusive access to essential comms tips and tricks and share details of upcoming free webinars, designed to help you understand your purpose and more.