In your organization’s early days, every employee fills a role that feels like it directly aligns with the company’s purpose. This should remain true as a company scales, but more often than not, the members of your team move further away from that goal. Having what seems like an indirect hand in the company’s actions, an employee’s sense of purpose eventually becomes dependent on their closest colleagues and their daily surroundings.
Successful companies are driven by engaged employees who are instrumental in that success. A large company that is able to make an individual employee feel vital and purposeful within a team of thousands will be a purpose-driven organization and can forge ahead with a united mission.
That’s why one of the most transformational skills leaders can practice is to align their actions and decisions to the support of purpose.
The Importance of Purpose in Business
Aligning a sense of purpose between a company’s leaders and its employees is easier said than done. Many teams work in a state of confusion or ignorance about their company’s overarching goals. In fact, according to a study by Strategy&, only 28% of workers feel connected to a sense of purpose in their workplace. This seems to lead to more serious problems — less than half of respondents felt at least “somewhat” motivated about their work.
When purpose is missing, so is engagement and motivation.
Conversely, purpose has a galvanizing effect on all team members when it’s lifted up and prioritized at the executive level, and simply being exposed to a clear sense of purpose can be transformative. Consider this study on fundraising volunteers: Wharton School professor Adam Grant found that when a scholarship recipient visited the office and told their personal story — thus connecting volunteers to a sense of purpose — the volunteers became more invested and more successful at their job, securing nearly 400% more funding than average.
Yet even when purpose is clearly expressed at the outset of a company’s journey, that vision can quickly be lost in the mania and minutiae of business. That’s why leadership needs to change and evolve over time, protecting its purpose from becoming damaged or confused. Although forward planning is often critical in business, a more important survival skill for purposeful leaders is to be able to adapt the plan as the wind inevitably changes.
How to Develop a Purpose-Driven Organization
What does a purpose-driven company look like, and how can leaders help create one? Here are three starting points that will empower you to connect your team members to their sense of purpose — before they start drifting away:
1. Place purpose on a pedestal.
To see a lift in purposefulness in your company, you need to actively prioritize it. For leaders, that means noticing where purpose thrives and where it withers. If there are too many purpose statements floating around, a leader should be able to step in and reunite team members under one common mission.
Leaders can regularly reinforce purpose by working and talking in a way that acknowledges it. At science and technology firm Danaher, executives get together regularly to model solutions for each other before sharing with the team. This way, they ensure they lift up purpose from the top.
2. Get inspired by purpose.
If you want the members of your team to feel connected to your company’s purpose, make it part of their daily motivation. There are many points of inspiration in business, but some can become distractions (such as beating competitors). Purpose can become lost because leaders don’t really know how to celebrate it.
A crucial part of effective change leadership is to inspire people to achieve a purpose. It means painting a picture of their impact at team meetings, rewarding team members for purpose-aligned actions, and checking people when they make decisions that seem counter to your organization’s purpose.
3. Create a purpose-driven community.
Fulfilling your company’s purpose really depends on people. If you haven’t hired people who understand your purpose, you’re fighting a losing culture battle. And if you haven’t developed a culture where people know and appreciate what purpose means, they will struggle to be inspired by purpose and use it as a motivating factor in their work.
As a leader, it’s your job to nurture connections between people that will grow into a community. Create systems of communication and collaboration that foster close connections; purpose will flow through these channels and grow stronger as it’s shared.
Creating a purpose-driven organization is not solely a leader’s job, but employees look to you to uncover what’s important. Cultivating connectedness with a common purpose is arguably the most powerful task you’ll undertake in your professional career.