Opinion

Why a company's sole purpose is to build purpose in its people

6 min read

02 February 2016

Every business needs a purpose. A guiding thought behind all decisions; something that drives the brand and empowers its people to be brilliant. An objective that is woven so tightly into the seams of every company that it helps to shape the behaviour of the business and every person within it.

Setting a clear purpose for your employees can ignite the sparks of brilliance and help you to get the best from your people.

Individual attitudes, work ethic, company culture, rewards and customer relationships all have a vital part to play, but the unifying concept which underlines this is purpose.

Inclusion inspires innovation

Multiple personalities and capabilities will make up your organisation. As a business leader, your task will be to unify these qualities and promote a common mission that harnesses your people’s collective potential, ultimately channeling it towards accomplishing your business’s primary goal.

From greater customer loyalty to improved productivity, the benefits speak for themselves. But arguably the most important is greater employee contentment.

In the words of Apple, “inclusion inspires innovation”. It’s why the company hires with the aim to make their workforce “as diverse as the world around us”, whilst giving them one common goal: create simplicity to breed clarity.

This purpose, and conviction is carried down from executive to junior level, and is how this company – with more than 50,000 employees and annual revenue approaching $100bn – still grows by 60 per cent each year.

Without putting too much emphasis on the cliché expression, your people are your business – they underpin every facet of it. A happy team is more engaged, productive, tenacious, loyal, and innovative.

A purpose ensures they feel they’re working towards a shared goal, and this sense of direction drives contentment.

Read more on the elements of company purpose:

Be clear and personal

If your company’s purpose is hard to grasp or convoluted, you can’t expect your employees to be able to embody it. It needs to be understandable and tangible, orienting and inspiring your people to build the business’s reputation and drive the customer experiences that build brand loyalty and growth.

Huge amounts of money are already spent by businesses with the intention of making the company purpose both tangible and operational, without the realisation that they have to make the purpose personal too. The wellbeing and satisfaction of your team will depend on them feeling an individual connection to it.

One way to embellish this deeper connection of purpose is the development of Employee Value Propositions (EVP). Yet what seems to be absent from this discussion is the idea that purpose actually frees employees.

Rather than restricting them, it liberates them to achieve greater things, providing a framework for innovation and creativity that drive a business forward. The work of Jim Stengel presents compelling evidence to suggest that having a clear and engaging purpose delivers improved bottom-line results.

Don’t forget permission!

This brings us to the crucial point of an employee’s freedom to demonstrate your purpose. It may well be understandable, personal and relevant, but this needs to be joined hand in hand with permission.

Employees must have the opportunity to embody your purpose both outwardly to customers and prospects, but also back into the organisation.

This permission is something that so many businesses forget. With this concept, your team is enthused and aware of the freedom it has to challenge how the business makes decisions, develops new products, and speaks collaboratively with customers.

It enables staff to innovate freely, seeing new opportunities that amplify the purpose. Ultimately it gives them a voice within the business and the evolution of its brand, at every level, in every role.

The days of following hard lines and hierarchical frameworks that formalise how and where people can share ideas are gone. When it comes to purpose, these rigid structures should be relaxed in favour of something a little more reciprocal.

I believe that 360-degree reviews skip important moments, and do not completely take account of how purpose is lived by everyone that is responsible for bringing a brand to life.

If your purpose gives permission to disagree then how are people acknowledged for taking a different point of view?

Established systems may take time to turn around, but for businesses that need help redefining purposes – aligning it with new concerns, new customers and new market challenges – there is a golden opportunity to bring its people together and galvanise an organisation.

No matter how you go about developing, revising, or reinvigorating your purpose, it should echo throughout your entire organisation and be used to get the best from your people. It may just be the best thing you ever created.

With company culture in mind, one man moved from his role working on CGI for Harry Potter films to shape culture of Airbnb, Pinterest and Uber, which secured him a $6.3m investment for his efforts.

Patrick Baglee is executive creative director at brand agency StartJG

Image: Shutterstock