How to find your startup’s shared purpose

A few weeks ago facilitating another vision and values workshop for one of our clients got me thinking again about how important finding purpose in what you do is and yet how hard this purpose is to capture. But does purpose need to be captured? Why is finding purpose in what you do so important? And how can we define what we do to help us find purpose in what we do? It is a big ask and yet something that should be so inherent to us.

Purpose has a powerful impact on us. Research shows that purpose affects our well-being. So essentially finding meaning in what we do leaves us feeling better. So how can we help people in our company find purpose in what they do? Creating purpose is part of being an ethical leader* (curious about it, see below) and this is how we can go about supporting people at your fast growing startup in finding their purpose.

Co-create a broad direction for the team

One way a leader can create purpose for the team is to co-create a strong vision. In companies we talk about visions and missions but yet it seems still unclear to most what they really are. Visions are an attempt to define who we are and what we do. It is beyond a marketing line and a catchy slogan. It’s the sunset on the horizon that we are heading towards and won’t ever fully reach. A vision is aspirational and inspirational. And exactly that makes defining it so tricky. It’s organic and hard to grasp. In an attempt to capture everything in a vision statement the essence gets lost. It might be hard and nearly impossible to find the perfect statement. So let’s not put this pressure on ourselves. Just keep it simple. Involve everyone who is affected and find a very high-level broad umbrella goal — a very broad general direction (your sunset)- that you all share. What is important is that people can find meaning in this. There are several avenues to get there (we can swim towards the sunset, climb a mountain, run across a field). The path (i.e. our mission) is likely different for all of us. It represents the way we interpret the vision and is what gives this vision meaning. This is a way for us to find meaning in what we do. And research does confirm having a meaningful vision leaves us more satisfied with what we do and brings us closer to the people around us that share this broad direction.

Be aware of each other’s expectations (sounds straightforward but is almost always overlooked)

Now another way to help find purpose at your fast growing startup is to be sure to manage expectations. There are so many assumptions floating around at work it is hard to keep track. “I thought you meant this”, “Soon means to me next week and to you next month”, “..this is the way I work/ be managed so I assumed you want to work/ be managed like this as well”. The old saying of “treat everyone as you want to be treated” does not apply when you throw different personality types, preferences and experiences in the mix. Recent research shows that just like having a shared vision, managing expectations does leave people more satisfied at work. It comes down to open and honest conversations on a “regular” basis (make sure to define what “regular” is to both / all of you, so no assumptions creep in). Just ask, be it a peer, your manager or direct report “How can I support you so we can be at our best?” and share what your needs are. It’s not a conversation left for the annual appraisal, but should be part of every catch up. “Where are we at? What do we need from each other?..”. And this is where the third mechanism that provides meaning falls into place: feedback.

Meet people where they are at and find out where they see you

Don’t be afraid of feedback. Recent coaching conversations reminded me yet again how afraid people are of feedback. All want it but are afraid of it. The line between feedback being perceived as aggressive and constructive is different for everyone. So setting the scene, i.e. finding out how to best feedback to each other is part of managing expectations. Once managed, feedback should be continuous without fear. Then feedback creates meaning by ensuring what you set out to achieve is what other people perceive you as achieving. Essentially it serves as a mirror to the world to ensure you are on your way to the sunset (avoiding or making the most out of detours). If you feel lost or need some tools, you can give this feedback to the people around to rally together build your and others’ capabilities to soldier on in the “right” i.e. meaningful direction. Or maybe the general direction needs to change for all of you to be aligned — -could happen — — Feedback can reveal all that and more to leave you and the people around you stronger and in a position to get and give support as needed to ensure that you are all on a path meaningful to you. And not surprisingly (confirmed by research yet again) this way your overall performance is improved as well.

The essence of all this

To support people in finding their purpose as your company grows, rally everyone together to identify a very broad direction that everyone identifies with. So don’t get lost in the detail and hung up on wording — it is more important that you all have a common understanding than finding the perfect word. This vision (in lack of a better word and to go with business speak) serves as a symbol. It could be as simple as “Be you”, “Reduce waste for a better tomorrow” or just “a better tomorrow”…whatever it is. It provides a very broad direction. On your path (your mission, i.e. the meaning you assign to the vision) you work together and help each other grow and achieve higher and better things by openly sharing your expectations of each other, your needs for you to be at your best and feed back to each other of where you are at, where you see them and how they see you. This ensures we all support each other in finding meaning and identifying their purpose.

If you want to find out more or comment, explore further, feel free to get in touch with me at We have bags of experience with fast growing companies to find meaning in what they do as they grow…

  • If it is the research side of things that gets you excited, I’m happy to share the Ethical Leadership Development Framework we pulled together from research and practice and tested as part of my PhD research).

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