9. Purpose: The Intersection of Change & Meaningfulness
Next time you’re with a leader, ask them what the purpose of their organization is. Then ask how that purpose differs from the organization’s mission or vision. I’ve found that many times leaders haven’t put much thought into the difference between purpose, mission or vision. Most know that a mission and / or vision exists, even if it’s not readily recitable (which is telling in and of itself). It’s less common that a corporate purpose has been formalized and communicated.
Purpose is one of the most basic tenets companies should have. It’s ‘why the company exists’. It seems simple but is often overlooked. The ability to succinctly define purpose is so universally applicable across many aspects of the business, it’s surprising how many companies haven’t done it. From recruiting employees (“Here’s why we exist and how we see you fitting into that purpose”) to creating strategy (“Here’s why we exist and how we plan to bring that purpose to fruition”), having a purpose should be every organization’s north star.
Traceability to Purpose
Most employees want to know that what they do has a positive impact on company goals and results. That link leads to employee engagement. It’s the traceability from each employee’s day-to-day tactical execution to the company’s purpose.
Purpose <-> Priorities <-> Strategy <-> Goals <-> Execution
Each stage in this traceability two-way flow is important. It’s rare though to find an organization that has successfully implemented it end-to-end. More often than not there are disparate portions that are done well, while others seem to exist in a vacuum or are ignored altogether.
The first step in establishing traceability is confirming the organization’s purpose.
What is the Purpose Intersection?
Purpose is the intersection of change and meaningfulness (see Intersection 9 image below). Organizations are created and exist because there is recognition that the chance for a change is possible and needed. By itself though, capitalizing on the chance for change won’t happen unless there is meaningfulness driving it.
Change is a fairly straightforward concept…it’s something different than exists today. As part of the purpose intersection, it receives a tweaked framing and becomes more real. Change with action becomes possibility. Change without action remains impossibility.
“Why does the company exist?” It most cases companies exist because of the changes they bring to market. New or modified products and services, innovative solutions, better ways of bringing existing products or services to market, different pricing models, etc. These changes equal purpose.
People crave purpose whether or not they use that word to articulate the craving. Corporate purpose defines how the company seeks to change the world. This contributes to employees’ own personal purposes from the perspective of making a difference and impacting change.
Intersection 9: Purpose = Change + Meaningfulness
Change without meaning is passionless. ‘Passionless’ and ‘purpose’ don’t fit well together, which is why meaningfulness is the second road in this intersection. Considering “Why does the company exist?” again, I haven’t met many people interested in being a part of something that doesn’t have meaning to them personally or to others.
Meaningfulness can be fulfillment, commonality, equality, equity, solutioning, creativeness, innovation, value, satisfaction, happiness, achievement, etc. Meaningfulness doesn’t guarantee perfection or success, but it is a largely controllable, positive variable on the path to performance.
Companies with purpose have found the meaningful change around which they can build consensus and engage teams that want to be part of something unique.
What Can Leaders Do?
Senior leaders are accountable for defining a corporate purpose. They then need to create the traceability to purpose which both enables and incentivizes success throughout the rest of the organization.
If leaders can’t articulate the company purpose or effectively communicate its traceability workflow, engagement and progress will be sub-optimized.
Purpose provides significance and validation for companies, leaders and employees.
Wrap Up & Up Next
All companies were created for a reason. Therefore, they already have purpose. The key is declaring it, communicating it and creating the necessary purpose-to-execution traceability to maximize the organization’s potential to fulfill that purpose.
Next time we’ll examine the 10th intersection of performance, which is the Valuation Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.