This Is Why and How Business Leaders Should Care about Purpose

This Is Why and How Business Leaders Should Care about Purpose

Since the start of the new millennium, business leaders have become more interested in creating a purpose-driven work environment. However, not all leaders understand how to articulate the purpose behind their work and foster a connection to that drive in the company’s endeavors. One reason for this is the confusion between a mission and a purpose. Business leaders are generally very familiar with a mission statement, which lays out exactly what an organization hopes to accomplish. Purpose, on the other hand, provides answers the question, “Why?” Too often, leaders conflate purpose with a rehashing of a business plan instead of pointing to the underlying motivation driving the company toward success.


Creating a Clear Line between Mission and Purpose

It’s easier to understand the difference between a company’s mission and purpose when considering specific businesses, like the technology giant Apple, for example. While Apple’s mission is to sell devices, its purpose derives from Steve Jobs’ vision: to create beautiful and innovative products the make technology simple and accessible. Another good example is the shoe company Toms, which donates a pair of footwear to someone in need for each pair purchased. While the company’s mission is to sell shoes, its purpose is to help people in need.

In business, purpose blurs the line between personal and professional. According to the book Path to Purpose by Bill Damon of Stanford University, purpose is a forward-thinking intention that has meaning for the individual as well as some impact on the larger world. Leaders are often better at articulating what they do than why they do it, perhaps because explaining why seems too personal. However, focusing too much on mission can create problems at a company. Leaders who focus more on what than why are more susceptible to new trends and whims, which increases the odds of them becoming distracted from the mission. In addition, mission-driven leaders tend to give up more easily when they encounter obstacles. As a result, these leaders may appear opportunistic to both employees and customers.



Understanding the Importance of Purpose-Driven Business Leadership

Research has consistently shown that purpose-driven business leaders are more likely to succeed, perhaps because they have more tenacity and better relationships with the people around them. A purpose-driven leader is better equipped to inspire employees. When employees have a clear purpose that is motivating them, they tend to be more engaged and feel more empowered. In addition, these employees report greater satisfaction in their jobs and are more willing to takes risks and innovate. People want a sense of purpose in their jobs because it makes them feel like they are making a real difference in the world rather than just working for a paycheck.

The other value of a deep connection to purpose relates to marketing. Whenever possible, consumers want to feel good about the money that they spend. People are more likely to buy Toms shoes, for example, even if the product is not exactly what they want, because they believe that they are helping make a difference in the world by doing so. Similarly, people are willing to pay more for Apple products because they know they are investing in the company’s innovation. Leaders who can articulate their organization’s purpose are more likely to bring in customers because consumers know that their money is supporting more than just a large paycheck for company executives.




Bringing More Purpose into the Workplace

Articulating purpose can prove difficult. To be driven by purpose, leaders first need to identify what their purpose is. Individuals may want to ask themselves why they got involved with the industry in the first place and what they hoped to accomplish by creating their company. Thinking about one’s personal values and beliefs can also help further clarify purpose. When these values and beliefs align with professional aims, purpose can be identified organically.

However, it is not enough to simply identify purpose. Purpose-driven leaders allow themselves regular time, at least once a month, to take a step back and check in with their purpose and the work they are doing for the company. Once a year, individuals may want to take more extended breaks from work to think back on what they have accomplished and how their efforts align with their personal goals and the company’s purpose. After all, one’s purpose can evolve over time.

Once leaders have clearly articulated the why behind their work, they need to share this explanation with their employees. All employees should be able to describe why what they personally do and what the company does matters. When employees can do this, they start thinking beyond the paycheck, which leads to improved morale.

Importantly, these conversations need to be ongoing. Leaders should invite their employees to talk about why they chose to work at the company and what they hope to achieve. When everyone works synergistically toward a common goal, they can achieve great things. Moreover, a one-time conversation can come across like a human-relations stunt.

Leaders should also make it a point to communicate with end users in a similar way. As people climb the leadership ranks, they typically spend less time interacting with customers, which can deteriorate one’s sense of purpose. Talking to consumers can help clarify what they think the purpose of the company is and help guide the organization’s evolution to more accurately reflect what it wants to do.