Written by Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership

Much like the values embedded in a mission statement, a company’s purpose can quickly be forgotten or is often seen as an add-on or a tick box exercise, rather than an integral part of a business’s reason for existing.  If leaders manage change and people, and managers focus on complex planning, dealing with performance and evaluations, who is looking after the purpose of an organisation?

Purpose is a thought-out, conscious reason for being, behaving, and evolving. In the lifestyle arena, purpose might be viewed as being best developed organically, but businesses are increasingly looking to understand and adopt their purpose, values and mindset with their people, customers and community, with wellness at the forefront.  However, a McKinsey survey found that 82% of US companies affirmed the importance of purpose, but only 42 percent reported that their company’s stated purpose had much effect. 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.

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.


Leadership and 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 doing well at managing themselves, their business, work relationships and networks, and 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 for yourself.


Data about purpose

There are reams of data to support the importance of purpose in business. A study in Psychosomatic Medicine (ScienceDaily)found 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 (hbr.org) found 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, and productive. Leaders should be a conduit to someone else’s success.


How can we create a purpose-driven culture?


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • Consistent message. 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.


  • 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 eventually be stifled.


  • 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 to what extent leaders and employees are in alignment is an efficient and cost-effective way to gain insight.


  • 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 in the company culture so every stakeholder and employee is clear about why the business exists.


  • Be open with your emotions and authentic. Ask employees how they’re feeling and express how you feel too. Acknowledging emotions encourages employees to be open and honest in the workplace. Being truly present will help build a purpose-driven culture.


  • 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.


  • Regularly provide learning opportunities for 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.


  • 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?