Purpose is one of those words that seems to belong in a book more of the likes of Eat Pray Love than an article about creating organisational success. However, research has shown for decades that the secret to a thriving business is aligning each employee, leader, and team to your company’s actual, true, meaningful purpose. The reason for existing. While bestselling authors and thought leaders, such as David Lapin, have been talking about purpose for years, only recently has purpose gained traction in mainstream business speak.
At the Influence Greatness Conference, Lapin shared a story of when he presented his research about purpose to a room of Harvard business professors in the mid-1990’s. At the end of his presentation, he received mild applause and skeptical looks. After convincing his audience to share with him what they thought of his research, one professor spoke on the behalf of the others and told him that they simply weren’t buying what he was saying.
“They told me that they all thought I was off the wall. They said, you’re crazy if you think business is about anything but making money for shareholders.” Lapin then pulled Harvard’s more recent thinking about purpose and continued by saying, “but now, what is Harvard saying? Purpose is at the essence of why firms exist. There is nothing mushy about it, it is pure strategy. And that’s what we have to understand about purpose, purpose is strategic.”
“What inspires people is purpose. When people know their company’s purpose and when they see that purpose in every aspect of the organisation, that is what inspires people and that is what people are looking for.”
HOW LEADING WITH PURPOSE DRIVES BUSINESS RESULTS
Business success starts and ends with people. You need a CEO to strategise and organise. You need the c-suite to lead and manage. You need people to produce products and services. You need a team of employees to show up, day after day, and keep your business afloat by creating, selling, maintaining, and inventing. However, there’s a big difference between companies that hire people to fill a job role and those that hire people to take their business to the next level, which is the defining difference between organisations that simply exist, and those that truly thrive. The power behind thriving companies lies within the people that work there and how much of their discretionary effort they feel inspired to give.
“If people give you what you contracted for, you have a company. It might be profitable and might last a long time. But it’s not going to shake the world up. You shake the world up when you have people that give you their discretionary energy—that is where innovation is. That is where fun is. That is where vibrancy is. That is where vitality of an organisation is,” says Lapin.
So how do you tap into this discretionary energy? You need to inspire your employees.
“What inspires people is purpose. When people know their company’s purpose and when they see that purpose in every aspect of the organisation, that is what inspires people and that is what people are looking for,” says Lapin.
It’s human nature to want to create something amazing. People are naturally inquisitive, innovative, and excited to be part of something great. If your employees are able to draw a line to how their work directly impacts the purpose of the company, and how that actually makes a difference in the world, then they become part of something bigger. And it is at that point in time when employees give their discretionary energy and become inspired to produce great work.
We are all familiar with the story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA and asking a janitor what his role was. The janitor replied, “well Mr. President, I’m putting a man on the moon.” It is said that it was at that moment that Kennedy himself believed they would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, which they did. It’s that type of alignment, when any person in any role can clearly articulate what it is they are doing for the world through their job, that you go from a business to a thriving organisation.
“You don’t build a Google, Apple, or Microsoft out of people that give you only what you contracted them for. You change the world when people feel inspired enough to give you their discretionary energy,” says Lapin.
In a global study conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute, they found that 40% of employees think their organisation only cares about profits and 1 in 5 employees believe there is no reason for their organisation to even exist. Imagine working for a company that you believed didn’t even have a reason to exist. It would be difficult to give that organisation anything beyond your job description.
Now imagine you work for Apple and you have Steve Jobs’ purpose statement, his personal ethos, guiding everyone to one clear reason for being there: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” If everyone had a guiding star as clear and concise as that purpose at work, well, there would be a lot more companies like Apple in the world.
A clear purpose that connects people to a bigger reason for showing up to work creates excitement, inspiration, and a willingness to give that discretionary energy. After an organisation has successfully aligned their people with their purpose, the business results will speak for themselves.
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