May 9, 2017
The Purpose Effect

One Year Later Is Purpose Winning?

It was a year ago today that my second book, THE PURPOSE EFFECT: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization published. I have been reflecting on the past year and wondered aloud recently, is purpose winning?

The short answer is sorta. Maybe. Kinda.

The good news is that the word “purpose” no longer feels as awkward as a Grade 8 dance. During the lead-up to the launch of the book I personally felt as though the concept of purpose was sound, yet many others remained in their corner of the gymnasium fearful of taking that first dance purpose step.

Whether through embarrassment, confusion or an acne breakout, people seemed to have cement in their shoes. As the weeks and months progressed after May 10, 2016, however, there was a palpable advancement. Not everyone was doing the moonwalk, but progress was happening. Purpose became an acceptable word.

My discussions with people over the past year always seemed to come back to one thing. How?

There were an endless number of questions that began with how.

  • How can I find purpose in my life?
  • How is it possible to create purpose in my role at work?
  • How does the organization shift from profit-driven to a balance profit and purpose culture?
  • How can I ever learn to break dance?

There was another ‘how’ question that kept popping up as well.

How important is culture to purpose?

That is perhaps my biggest takeaway over the past year. There is an inextricable link between culture and purpose. I found that as the summer turned into fall, and as winter turned into our spring, my keynotes, coaching, workshops and 1-1 discussions began to encompass both culture and purpose. Put differently, I no longer separate purpose from culture. My work–in whatever capacity it takes shape–is a combination of FLAT ARMY (my first book) and THE PURPOSE EFFECT. Whether working with a small or large organization, not-for-profit, public sector or for-profit, culture and purpose are in fact siblings from the same family.

Of course there is a personal element to both culture and purpose. One cannot rely solely on the organization to enact an engaged culture or a purpose-driven ethos. It really does start with you. I see this often in my conversations. Those that take charge of their own purpose are far more engaged at work.

Each day we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are prepared to continually develop what we are about, define who we want to be, and decide how we want to be known after we leave a room. This is the essence of personal purpose, but it can be reflected in the way we are engaged or disengaged in our roles at work, too.

So yes. Culture and purpose are actually fraternal twins. And whether we are engaged in life and in our roles at work has a significant impact on our dance moves. (or if we choose to dance at all)

The Organization

And what about organizations? Are we shifting toward a purpose-driven ethos, one that includes a highly engaged workforce?

I don’t see a rush to the dance floor–even though the base line is catchy, and twerking mercifully seems to be dead–but there are some glimmers of hope.

Dominic Barton, James Manyika and Sarah Keohane Williamson proved one part of THE PURPOSE EFFECT thesis. “Companies that operate with a true long-term mindset have consistently outperformed their industry peers since 2001 across almost every financial measure that matters.” That is, companies focused on the long term in their study ended up averaging revenue growth 47 percent higher and earnings growth 36 percent higher than those focused on short-term gains. This is part of the Good DEEDS model in the book.

On the downside, Gallup’s daily employee engagement tracking in the US sits at 33.5 percent. At the beginning of 2014 it was 32.9 percent. I would not call that progress. More needs to be done to create cultures of collaboration and purpose.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development continues to do amazing work in this space. It launched the Social Capital Protocol, a framework for organizations to measure, understand and value their interactions with society. Fortune Magazine initiated the Change the World list, a group of fifty companies who are building intentional efforts to address social problems (by way of organizational purpose) into the core of their business plans.

Michael Porter of Harvard Business School and Mark Kramer of FSG are the pioneers behind the list, and they write:

“Companies are moving beyond often fuzzy notions like sustainability and corporate citizenship to making meaningful social impact central to how they compete.”

There is some actual movement out there, often demonstrated by a new generation of leaders who understand the symbiotic relationship between culture and purpose. These are the ones not afraid to “bust-a-move” on the dance floor. I identified a few in THE PURPOSE EFFECT, including LSTN, Fairphone and Market Basket. Over the past year I have discovered several more.

Take for example, Katlin Smith, CEO of Simple Mills. Katlin recognized that foosball tables and a misaligned purpose does nothing to grow the business, or help society. Engagement and purpose is much more than perks and a fixation on profit.

Katlin writes:

“It starts with purpose.

At Simple Mills, we are here to positively impact the way food is made, enriching lives and bodies through delicious, convenient foods made from clean, nutritious ingredients. This is the first and most important component of our company and culture. Every piece, every person, must be centered on fueling our mission – from hiring criteria, to the way we source ingredients, to the products we make.

We focus on the right priorities, at the right time, with the right resources.”

Data and research continues (albeit slowly) to be produced supporting the argument of an enhanced purpose and culture. Alyson Daichendt, Managing Director, Human Capital Consulting Practice at Deloitte helped write a report at her firm titled “The Impact Project.” In it she discovered that the most important principle is something referred to as “Think Values and Value.” She says:

“Many of the exceptional brands included in the report have a deeply embedded sense of purpose in their organization, giving their employees a sense of meaning and deeply influencing decision making.”

As I often say in my keynotes, employees need to feel valued, they need to create value, and they need to believe their efforts are valuable through a values-based organizational culture and purpose.

I love Alyson’s line, particularly how she ends it. It speaks to the relationship between purpose and culture, but it also touches on something I have also realized. Purpose and an engaged culture are important factors, but they are often aided by a better way of thinking and decision making.

Not surprisingly, my next book, titled OPEN to THINK, will publish on April 10, 2018 and it is devoted to something I call Open Thinking. The concept centers around three types of thinking: Creative, Critical and Completion. When we recognize that Open Thinking can assist purpose and culture, well, that’s a dance party that I want to be invited to.

While THE PURPOSE EFFECT is only a year old, I hope it has the “book legs” to make an impact for the next decade. Purpose isn’t winning, but there is hope. If there is anything that I have learned, the dance floor needs more willing dancers.

Are you a dancer?

PS. If you have read the book or have a story to share, please feel free to write your thoughts or comments below.


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