“When people throughout the organization come to share in a larger sense of purpose, they are united in a common destiny. They have a sense of continuity and identity not achievable in any other way.” Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline.
What is your organization’s core purpose? This may be the most important question that you ask yourself and the members of your team.
Think of core purpose (or mission) as an organization’s bottom-line reason for being. Ask, “Why do we exist?” “What is the higher contribution that we are making, which makes our team and our work so meaningful?” Collins and Porras describe purpose as the “deeper, more fundamental reasons for the organization’s existence” beyond just making money (Built to Last). They explain that the role of purpose is to guide and inspire an organization. Collins and Porras continue:
“An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work–it taps their idealistic motivations–rather than just describing the organization’s output or target customers. It captures the soul of the organization.”
Notice the appeal to intrinsic motivation and meaning. A growing body of research is finding that organizations with a clear sense of purpose that includes making a meaningful contribution to the larger community are more likely to attract and retain talent, be innovative and creative, and achieve exceptional results. Daniel Pink writes, “The most deeply motivated people–not to mention the most productive and satisfied–hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves” (Drive).
Advertising guru Roy Spence says, “ladder up” your purpose. “A great purpose statement should feel like a lofty and noble goal worthy of putting your life’s work into.” Go higher with it! When he worked with Southwest Airlines, Spence encouraged them to ladder up their purpose: they weren’t just a discount airline, they were giving people that otherwise couldn’t afford to fly the freedom to do so. Their core purpose is: To give people the freedom to fly. In his book, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For, Spence describes the powerful impact unearthing and giving voice to this purpose had on Southwest Airlines.
We long for a sense of purpose in our lives and to serve something larger than self. Beyond the financial aspect of work, we crave purpose. We want to know that our work matters, and that we are contributing to something larger than self.
Discussion Prompt #1
Have you been in an organization that had a clear and compelling core purpose? Tell us about the experience. What was the purpose? What impact did it have?
Discussion Prompt #2
Roy Spence writes, “If you don’t have a clear and easy-to articulate purpose, everything feels a bit chaotic, harried, and maybe even meaningless. Meetings may go on for hours with endless and arbitrary decision-making criteria being thrown out by anyone with an opinion…There may be a flurry of activity and an abundance of ‘busy-ness,’ but it all seems frenetic, disorganized, and leading in no particular direction.”
Have you ever been in an organization that lacked purpose? Tell us about the experience.
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