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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd

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Ten ways to make purpose more present in your company culture

Don't ignore your organisation's purpose. It can boost engagement, recruitment, loyalty, brand reputation and the bottom line.
Purpose over profit

Leaders are increasingly seeing the value of embedding and authentically developing purpose as an essential part of business success. Employees, prospects and clients are connected to purpose more than ever before and want to know before any collaborations about why an organisation exists, what its values are and what they are aspiring to do.

Understanding purpose from a new perspective

In the lifestyle arena, purpose might be viewed as being best developed organically. In the corporate arena, businesses are increasingly looking to understand and adapt their purpose with their people, customers and community, but are falling short. A McKinsey survey found that whilst 82% of US companies affirmed the importance of purpose, only 42% reported that their company’s stated purpose had much effect.

Purpose is often present in the creation of a company, in which case it is the founder and those around them who gather behind something meaningful

The inference is that whilst companies know that there is value in having a clear purpose they lack the conviction, authenticity and energy to ensure that what they do and how the company is directed are in line with a fundamental purpose beyond making money.

So who is responsible for purpose? Everyone, but it starts with leaders. In the next decade, good leaders will not be measured by their financial achievements (only), but by the businesses’ success at developing core values, making a difference, and giving employees and customers meaning and support to achieve their aims.

Purpose is often present in the creation of a company, in which case it is the founder and those around them who gather behind something meaningful. People who resonate with that purpose are attracted to that energy and growth comes from the synergy produced. In companies that already exist, identifying a real purpose can be more awkward and it requires leadership to work with their people to establish something that has meaning and can enthuse everyone involved.

Collaboration develops purpose

To develop purpose and to be truly innovative, leaders must opt for collaborations with many different people who have varying perspectives. Purpose is about co-creation, not leadership vision and followership. However, when there is a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity, leaders need to be good at managing themselves, their business, work relationships and networks, as well as their teams who will be looking closely at how they are experiencing that leadership.

Leaders show they care through purpose. Equally, they need introspective self-awareness and emotional understanding because you can’t be authentically present to others if you are not present to yourself.  

Supporting evidence

There are reams of data to support the importance of purpose in business. A study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that when people have a greater sense of purpose, they have less incidence of cardiovascular disease and lower mortality. A study published by Harvard Business Review found that when companies had a clearly articulated purpose that was widely understood in the organisation they had better growth than companies that hadn’t developed or leveraged their purpose.

We also know that when leaders demonstrate clear purpose, vision, commitment and strong morals, their people are happier and more fulfilled, as well as being more productive. Leaders should be a conduit to someone else’s success.

Culture and purpose are critical for hiring and retaining the best talent; how your employees feel will always speak the loudest

What are the best ways to develop a purpose-driven culture?

1. Ask yourselves the difficult questions and keep coming back to them

Take time for reflection – both business and personal. Ask yourselves what is our purpose as a company? Why do we do what we do? What can we offer others? How can we look at more than just the bottom line? How are we unique? Your purpose must be unique to your company.

2. Look at company culture

What is the culture of the organisation – the personality, the beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, assumptions and practices? Culture and purpose are critical for hiring and retaining the best talent; how your employees feel will always speak the loudest. 

3. Consistent messages

If you asked every employee at every level of the company hierarchy what the purpose of the business is, do you think their answers would match? Clear communication in all directions is vital.

4. Nurture individuals in the context of their own purpose

Does your business thwart or support individuals finding and expressing their purpose? When businesses foster an environment where workers can pursue their own passions and can grow and feel fulfilled, the positive effects on the business are multiplied. If a company says they believe in innovation and exploring creativity, but their workers are not encouraged or supported when sharing out-of-the-box ideas or don’t feel psychologically safe enough to speak out, that growth will be stifled. 

5. Use data to help find your purpose

This can be discovered through assessments, research and analytics to establish how much influence your current purpose has throughout the business. Asking employees regularly to complete a survey to understand the extent to which leaders and employees are in alignment is an efficient and cost-effective way to gain insight.  

6. Integration

From processes, strategy and day-to-day operations, through to leadership and the hiring process, the company’s purpose needs to be echoed throughout communication, decision-making, strategy and priorities, and fully integrated into the company culture so every stakeholder and employee is clear about why the business exists. 

7. Be open with your emotions and authentic

Ask employees how they’re feeling and express how you feel too. Acknowledging emotions, particularly in the context of uncertainty, encourages employees to be open and honest in the workplace. Being truly present will help build a purpose-driven culture. 

8. Be an authentic leader

Often leaders will give motivational speeches to their employees about the business’ goals, purpose, and values but if employees don’t see their leaders aligning their own behaviours with the purpose, it will hold little sway and cause tension within the workplace. Lead by example. Always.  

Do your employees share the same purpose, or do they feel disconnected from the company? 

9. Regularly provide learning opportunities

This helps employees to be part of the development of a purpose-driven culture. Employ and identify internally purpose-driven, positive, motivated individuals who can authentically live, reinforce and be an ambassador for the purpose of the company. 

10. Repeatedly assess how well you are doing

Use data and analytics to see how much influence your current purpose holds and how aligned executives and staff are. Do your employees make decisions based on what your purpose is? Do your employees share the same purpose, or do they feel disconnected from the company? 

Interested in this topic? Read Why it’s time for HR to step up and deliver on ‘purpose’.

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