Closing the purpose gap

  • Is the pursuit of purpose

Published on: November 2018

Written by: Jessica Skon, Lee Sears, Madeline Renov

Leading with Purpose, Part 3

As we discussed in the first two posts in this blog series, finding your personal purpose is an essential ingredient of finding meaning in what you do. Once you start looking at your profession through a purposeful perspective, you very well may start to see business opportunities that you did not see before. As one executive we worked with in this space said “Once I realized that what I wanted was to help people live healthy and fulfilling lives, I started to see just how much potential there was in the work we do, even if it wasn’t driving the short-term numbers. Knowing what I stood for and seeing the need in the world meant that I was prepared to back new market opportunities because I knew it was the right thing, as well as ultimately good business. I was no longer prepared to live with the conventional wisdom inside the organization. Now we have opened up a whole new segment that is one of our most promising. Being more purposeful unlocked my courage and my creativity in ways that not much else could.”

Today, most executives agree that purpose is important. According to EY and HBR’s “A Business Case for Purpose,” 89% of executives say that an organization with a shared purpose will have higher employee satisfaction, and 84% say that business transformation efforts will have greater success if integrated with purpose. Despite this, only 39% say that their purpose is clearly articulated and understood in the organization. But for Millennials and the majority of employees these days, the expectation of a clear purpose is now the norm. If you don’t have it, they notice right away.

So, what can you do about this organizational purpose gap as a leader? Once you’ve uncovered your own sense of purpose, there are two next steps that you can immediately apply:

  1. Reflect on the last time you talked to your team about purpose and what your purpose is. What motivates you the most? If it’s been more than a couple quarters (or longer) since you shared that, perhaps use an end of quarter celebration or a memo or some other upcoming communication to reflect. It could be along the lines of, “Many of you have asked me why I spend my time on X, why I’m still here, why I’ve spent so many years here…. So I just wanted to share what motivates me, what I’m passionate about, etc.” and welcome people to share for themselves what motivates them. It’s critical that you define it in your own words, and are completely authentic in it. Purpose is a double-edged sword – if it doesn’t feel authentic, it can create cynicism, but if it is genuine, it can be very inspiring.
  2. Create a series of senior team conversations where people prepare and reflect on some of the recent moments they’re most proud of, the moments when they’re happiest at work and with the team. By doing this, people will uncover what truly motivates them – and you’ll find out a number of things about your team. To get the conversation started, sometimes it’s helpful to share your personal purpose as well as a few different purposes that have come from your peers to allow people to warm up to some of their reflections.
The Pursuit of Organizational and Personal Purpose in Parallel

Bridging the purpose gap and finding a way to pursue both organizational and personal purpose in parallel is where the power of finding meaning at work can drive true impact. If we look for strategic opportunities that present themselves as we try to tackle the worlds big challenges, there are suddenly thousands of ways that businesses can make a lasting difference and set themselves apart. Those businesses who are in pursuit of finding their purposeful advantage are fertile breeding grounds for meaningful careers and the delivery on the aspirational dream of great work doing great things.

We see reason for hope here. But only by looking at the purpose question as a driver of organizational advantage as well as by focusing on finding our own personal ‘Ikigai’ are we likely to avoid the search for purpose becoming another well intended promise that never quite delivers.