5 questions for leaders who want to lead a purpose revolution at work
Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
I have the privilege of working with some pretty remarkable professors and instructors who never fail to impress.
They’ve challenged students to raise more than $160,000 for Food4Kids and deliver Christmas presents to every child at a North Hamilton primary school. They’ve coached and mentored students to sweep award categories at national and North American advertising competitions. They’ve put students to work renovating public housing units, a church, rec centre and community theatre. They’ve taught women how to renovate kitchens and bathrooms.
Teaching courses is their job. Transforming lives and launching careers is their purpose. It’s what keeps them motivated semester after semester and gets their students engaged in their learning.
So if you run a restaurant, you’re not just serving food. You’re giving the lunch crowd an escape in the middle of their day and a place at night and on weekends to celebrate milestones and moments with family and friends.
If you run a cleaning service, you’re giving homeowners the gift of time. If you run a clothing store, you’re giving people the self-confidence that comes with looking good.
Every business and organization has a purpose beyond selling products and services and making a profit. Connect people to that purpose and they’ll want to work for you, spend and invest their money with you.
Finding that purpose can be a challenge. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, authors of The Purpose Revolution, recommend the search has to start with yoru senior leadership.
Izzo and Vanderwielen have helped hundreds of companies and leaders find their purpose by first defining their legacy.
To figure that out, they ask leaders five questions.
- How will the world be a better place because of what you’re doing?
- How will your family be better off?
- How will the people who work with you be better off?
- How are you making a difference for the people you serve and the community where you do business?
- And when people talk about your influence and impact, what words and phrases do you hope to hear?
“Time and again, we have seen how the conversation in a room changes when you ask leaders this simple question – legacy is a powerful word,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.
“Rarely do their responses focus on profits, revenue or market share. Instead, they tend to talk about the difference they have made in the lives of employees, customers, the community and their industry. When they connect to their legacy, they become aware of their higher and perhaps truest aspiration.”
Leaders who are clear on their legacy can then get to work on building a purpose-centred organization.
“We found that a CEO or business owner acting as a champion of purpose makes a huge difference in any organization aspiring to its higher purpose.”
Lacking a higher purpose is a problem in this current era of social good. A revolution is underway, say Izzo and Vanderwielen. Yes, it’s important to make money. Yet current and prospective employees, customers and investors expect organizations to also make a difference. We want our work, purchases and investments to help leverage a better world now and into the future.
Do it right and you earn our loyalty. Ignore the purpose revolution and you risk irrelevance.
According to Izzo and Vanderwielen, a purposeful organization is wholly committed to making life better for customers, employees, society and the environment both now and into the future.
Yet the authors say a majority of organizations get a failing grade when it comes to closing the gap between what companies are doing and what employees, customers and investors expect.
Common pitfalls include:
- Believing that making money is a purpose. “Profits do matter, but sustainable profits are almost always an outgrowth of serving a purpose.”
- Confusing purpose with a marketing program. Purpose is everyone’s responsibility and must drive day-to-day decisions. “It is more important to have purpose and live it authentically than it is to simply tell people you have purpose.”
- Making purpose a one-way street. Instead of a top-down edict, you need genuine involvement by employees who are motivated by their own values. If they can live those values by working in your organization, you’ll build a purpose-driven organization that feels authentic to customers and investors.
- Purpose is just stuck on a wall, with well-meaning words framed behind glass. “The conversation about purpose is more important than the articulation,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen. “A well-articulated purpose is good but what determines its effectiveness in a company is how alive the conversation about that purpose is.”
Along with leaders adopting personal purpose statements and then encouraging everyone to do the same, Izzo and Vanderwielen recommend that organizations to replace job functions with job purpose. “When we connect to the true purpose of our work, it is transformed from a mean’s to an end to an end in and of itself.
“The purpose revolution demands commitment, and that requires discipline. Right now, there are companies and leaders who will one day be known for having won in the age of social good. The question is whether you will be one of them.”
To join those ranks, Izzo and Vanderwielen give practical advice and a gameplan for hands-on purpose-building across your entire organization.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.