From a Place of Purpose
5 Ways How Today’s Leaders Ignite Purpose With Everyone In The Company
Times are gone when companies trumped with profit and productivity only. Today, the discussion on why companies exist beyond their products and shares, has challenged leaders to think and act differently on business. As artificial intelligence and digital technologies are exponentially developing, the question arises on how we perceive work and jobs, why and how we build businesses, and if economic principles, laid out for the industrial age’s mass productions, are still valid?
Ultimately, one could challenge: Where will humans find true meaning and purpose in the “second machine age”? Clearly, a change of organizations and leadership is necessary — and quite frankly, it has already begun, giving hope for a new common economic understanding with purpose at its core. A watershed moment on this very subject was initiated by Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, at the beginning of this year, when he called for companies’ need for a strong, social purpose to connect with employees, clients and stakeholders in his annual letter ‘A Sense of Purpose’. On top of this, results of a recent survey of 1,500 global C-Suite executives stated how purposeful companies outperform the market by 42% financially. To be clear, leading a business with purpose does not mean to do so without making profit.
As Simon Sinek notes in his bestselling book Start with Why, we need to achieve a mindset shift from focusing on ‘what we do’ to ‘why we do it’ in order to make businesses last with positive impact. In other words, leaders of today need to (re-)connect to the reasons behind their work again, to be able to think, act, and engage with employees from a place of purpose.
A good example of a purpose-driven leader is Yvon Chouinard, founder of patagonia, who turned his dedication to nature and outdoor activities to a $200 million-dollar company, leading in environmental sustainability. Along the way, Chouinard trusted making purpose-driven decisions, such as the most famously known ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign in 2011. Back then, Patagonia purchased a full-page ad in The New York Times encouraging customers to repair and reuse their clothing as part of their Common Threads Initiative. During this time, 30,000 items were repaired in 18 months while sales increased about 30% during 2012. This is only one of many examples that show how Chouinard has incorporated his very own purpose in the company’s work, and how it’s benefitting not only the growth, but also their contribution for environmental causes in the long run.
On top of outstripping in financial performance, purpose-driven leaders simply have internalized the altered consumer needs in this fast-changing, competitive environment. In face of the ‘war for talent’ and the fact that Millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020, today’s leaders are especially challenged when it comes to recruiting, retaining, and inspiring new talent. Today’s young workforce, more than any generation before, demands a sense of purpose in their jobs, and the company in general. There’s a reason why this generation is called ‘Y as in why’, questioning the status quo of the work environment, and by that driving a new type of leadership, grounded and fueled by purpose.
Now let’s assume that this wake-up call has been heard. Yet how do today’s CEOs manage to involve their workforce equally from the core of the company’s DNA, the purpose?
First of all, it must be said, that purpose-driven leadership doesn’t end with hanging a statement on the walls of the workplace. Aligning the company’s work, decisions and actions from purpose as a compass is, quite frankly, hard. Once determined and internalized, purpose guides a leader holistically, ranging which solutions you offer, how you treat customers, how you collaborate with partners, and how you engage with your workforce.
After all, the ultimate goal is: Let purpose entwine more and more with your day-to-day business, both inside and outside the company.
1. Live and speak out your personal ‘why’
Purpose is nothing you can simply put into words, but rather an inner urge, an energetic force, a ‘fire in the belly’ feeling that lies at the core of your being. Thus, a personal raison d’être is what fuels the tireless dedication to your work, and the company as a whole. All the more important it’s for leaders to help (re)connect and develop their own ‘why’, in order to relate it to the overarching purpose of the business. Only then it is truly possible and credible to do the same for their employees and teams. By opening up yourself, and speaking from a place of humility, honesty, and, also, vulnerability, employees will be able to connect to you on a much more personal, human level. Sharing your own reasons for working will reinforce a different intensity of employee relationships, spark new conversations, result in a new source of motivation, and ultimately, create a culture where people can thrive, and give their all — not because they have to, but because they choose to.
2. Encourage employees to be their true self
Regardless of age, level of experience, and personality, everyone genuinely seeks to be seen, valued and supported as a whole person, rather than the ‘embodiment of their job description’. Yet most workplaces allow only just enough space to let the ‘professional self’ in and to check all other parts at the door. However, to unlock one’s full potential and bring all of it to work, and finally do all of this aligned with the company’s purpose requires to create a space that supports this journey to wholeness. As Laloux states in his book ‘Reinventing Organizations’:
“Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work. In wholeness we are life-full. We discover in awe how much more life there is in us than we ever imagined. In our relationships with colleagues, much of what made the workplace unpleasant and inefficient vanishes; work becomes a vehicle where we help each other reveal our inner greatness and manifest our calling.”
Thus, leaders need to create these spaces, whether through self-management principles, storytelling or personal growth opportunities to engage employees through and with purpose. The results speak for themselves, as a study by EY shows that having a purpose statement not only has a positive effect on engagement overall, but also how twice as many leaders get meaning from work and energy levels of 60 percent higher.
3. Create a culture of radical candor
Leaders are key influencers to a company’s culture, especially when it comes to communication and interpersonal interactions. Enabling employees to connect with a shared purpose therefore requires to strengthen clear and open communication that allows room for questions and feedback. As described by Kim Scott, author of ‘Radical Candor’, a mix of empathetic and challenging; savvy but not fearful; optimistic without being naïve provides a psychological safe space. This helps employees unfold the opportunity of resonating and reacting to the company’s purpose.
4. Align roles and accountabilities to purpose
In the current state of constant transition and transformation, leaders need to remain resilient. Particularly performance, which traditionally is being measured in quantified metrics, needs to shift towards impact-driven goals — aligned with the overall purpose. As practiced in Holacracy-inspired organizations, each position and accountabilities are set around the company’s purpose while including specific goals that are relevant to the role itself. This ultimately helps to reflect, for example daily activities or annual goals on a bigger picture while allowing much more agility and responsiveness than in purely profit-oriented businesses.
5. Nurture lifelong learning
Last but not least, no one ever said that a personal or a company’s purpose is set once and never changed. In fact, leaders need to embrace change as ‘the new normal’ and enable employees to equally evolve a growth mindset that helps reflect and question the status quo, and by that, also the purpose of the organization. An environment that inspires, adapts and supports leaders learning from leaders ultimately draws a much more future-proof workforce, nurturing an ongoing, active, evolutionary purpose that is lived out by every single person within the company.