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Jan 23, 2024

Prioritise Your Purpose

People and organisations are prioritising purpose to achieve career and business goals
In years to come, we’ll be shaking our heads in wonder about the outdated pre-pandemic world of work. The impact of the pandemic and the hybrid working model will be the subject of much research and discussion, but what we do already know is that the requirement to work in the office full time has all but disappeared, hybrid working is fully embedded and remote-working practices are widening the talent pool and attracting the right people, regardless of location.
What’s also clear is that the dated diktat for authoritative leadership has gone. Today’s successful leaders are more person-centric, compassionate and flexible; they focus on helping their people find purposeful and fulfilling work that works for them.
What I’m observing in the boards and executive teams I work with is a gap in understanding the differences between organisational purpose, leadership team purpose and individual leaders’ purpose. Alignment would be utopia but, for these teams, understanding the differences is a useful accelerant to achieving a purposeful workforce in a purpose-driven organisation.

Purpose is paramount

Organisational purpose involves leaders embedding a moral purpose into the ethos and culture of the organisation that ensures a shared sense of purpose, strong business ethics and long-term value-creation.
Purpose defines why an organisation exists, what problems it is here to solve and who it wants to be to each individual it interacts with. Purpose is the antithesis of whitewashing or other terms we’re becoming all too familiar with like sportswashing, pinkwashing or greenwashing. It is about business being a force for good, doing more than generating profit and serving shareholders, by taking responsibility for having a positive impact on society. This in turn results in additional revenue, profit and success. A sustainable brand leads to sustainable business.
With the Government putting back net zero targets, politics may impact the drive for purpose. But the State is out of sync. There are so many organisations out there doing much more, making it their brand mission to extend their purpose beyond merely profit and the environment. And having B Corp certification has come to signify companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

The power of purpose

Purpose-led organisations are proven to attract more interest, do more business, experience faster growth, gain competitive edge, increase market share, create customer loyalty, have higher employee engagement and less staff turnover, even better innovation.
And the research supports these benefits.
Deloitte found that purpose-driven brands gain more market share and grow on average three times faster than their competitors. They achieve higher customer and employee satisfaction, reporting 49% higher levels of workforce retention and 30% higher levels of innovation.

Deloitte’s Strength of Purpose study, which surveyed 8,000 companies in 8 markets, showed that when brands had a strong purpose, consumers were four times more likely to trust the brand, four times more likely to buy from the brand and four and a half times more likely to recommend the brand to other people.

In addition, Bain & Company’s Elements of Value research, a global survey of 60 brands, found that the most successful companies are purpose-led and typically gain market share by creating issue awareness and shining a light on lesser-known problems. This stimulates consumer interest in their products, drives retailer demand and attracts and motivates good quality employees which, in turn, leads to higher growth, profit and greater commitment from investors.
Bain also found that 41% of consumers rate environmental, social or health consciousness as their key purchasing criteria and more than 70% of consumers are willing to pay a reasonable premium for sustainability.
Purpose is particularly important to Millennial and Gen Z consumers who tend to seek out purpose-led brands more than any other generation. Millennials are set to have the highest purchasing power of any consumer group within the next five years and already constitute 50% of the market for purpose-led brands.

Purpose-led leaders drive purpose-led climates

Organisational climate refers to ‘how it feels to work around here’, as opposed to organisational culture which refers to ‘how we do things in this organisation’. Employees feeling that they work in a purpose-driven climate results in better outcomes for individuals and the organisation.
Leadership behaviour is proven to drive organisational climate and business performance. Board Advisor & HR Consultant Helen Sweeney talks of her expertise in leading change in organisational culture and climate and shares research from Hay Group that found business performance improves by up to 30% when employees experience a great climate where people are aligned and motivated, and up to 70% of organisational climate scores are determined by leadership behaviour.

It naturally follows that purpose-led leaders will drive a purpose-driven climate, creating more meaningful work and outcomes for employees and the organisation.

Pursue your purpose

Choosing purpose is about having an intention and determination to achieve a meaningful outcome. It’s about why you do something or why something exists, having a reason to work or exist and working towards a specific purpose or goal that brings meaning and fulfilment to your work and life.
For me, as an entrepreneur managing a leadership practice, I’m clear about my purpose. I choose to be intentional about who I’m being and what I’m doing. I’m clear I’m here to do the most meaningful and fulfilling work of my life, supporting talented leaders to be the best they can be.
What’s your purpose or goal that brings meaning and fulfilment to your work and life; whether that’s through personal growth, relationships, work or voluntary endeavours? How are you choosing a life that gives you purpose and passion? And how are you being intentional and authentic about your purpose?
Purpose-led organisations are collectively making a difference, giving their people a shared sense of meaning. Does your organisation have a clear purpose for leaders and employees to identify and align with? As a leader, how are you helping others to make meaning and pursue their purpose? 

Mind the purpose gap

Research by McKinsey found that 70% of employees said their sense of purpose is defined by their work, and that they expect their job to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives. 
However, McKinsey describes a stark ‘Purpose Hierarchy Gap’, finding that 85% of executives and upper management agree that they are living their purpose at work, yet 85% of frontline managers and frontline employees are unsure or disagree that they live their purpose in work.
Employers need to help meet this need for sense of purpose to engage and retain their people or be prepared to lose talent to companies that will. McKinsey’s advice to leaders is unrelenting: 

“Help your employees find purpose - or watch them leave.” 

Get up close and purposeful

As a coach, I’m watching leaders flourish as they fuel their personal purpose and pioneer a more purpose-led agenda for their organisation differentiating with real clarity on what’s important and what’s insignificant?
I’m working with so many like-minded clients who are purpose-driven. Take the Chief Executive of a social housing organisation leading an Executive Team striving to achieve its purpose of ‘reimagining housing’ by helping people meet their housing needs, providing affordable, sustainable housing to local communities for social rent and shared ownership.
The Global Chief Procurement Officer, who absolutely believes he can make a positive difference to sustainability in the glass manufacturing industry and who, through coaching, was able to energise his career, push energy reduction targets with bold sustainability targets and win awards for procurement sustainability. 
Also, the Deputy Chief Executive, the most purpose-led leader I work with, who’s first coaching session with me was surrounded by sunshine and an array of post-it notes as she took the time to think about her purpose and articulate it with courage and conviction. She’s absolutely driven by her purpose, it consumes her very being as well as that of the organisation she leads. 

Graduates with purpose

I’m privileged to know and coach a number of inspiring and purpose-driven graduates who are clear about the contribution and impact they can make. They expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives.
Amira is a Nottingham University maths graduate working for a London start up crowd funding homelessness in London. After initially looking for roles in data analysis in the banking and corporate finance sector, she realised that she wanted a career where she could make a positive impact in supporting others.
She explains, “I wanted to take what I learnt from the tech world and apply it to the developing world and public sector. I also wanted to get a deep understanding of how public and third sector services work. And I wanted my work to be meaningful. In my role, I get to give back to my community by working with and supporting people who are going through a difficult period in their life but are committed to turning their life around. Their resilience is inspiring and I get energy from supporting them.” And in case we’re in no doubt, her parting words: 

“I want to live and work for a cause greater than just my own happiness and financial gain.”

Amira Al-Shabazz 

Olivia is a masters graduate, who worked in a top 50 law firm and left to work for the Premier League to make more impact by working with football clubs on their diversity, equality and inclusion. Oliva explains, “I was attracted to a job in sport because of the wide-reaching potential for impact that the sector can have to really make a difference, whether through the media, communities at grass-roots level or through cultural conversation. When we look at the change we want to see in society, it is so often our sports figures and teams that teach us how working with purpose and authenticity drives progress, which inspired me.”
Also Liv, who from her travels across three continents, witnessed first-hand the appalling food waste from supermarkets and wanted to “do something” but wasn’t in a position to do so. She left her operations job in a London communications consultancy to work as a sommelier, a job that will enable her to travel and make her first firm imprints into the food industry and tackling food waste.
For graduates, maybe a purposeless side hustle pays the bills but ask yourself this question; are you pursuing your purpose or fulfilling someone else’s?
Employers need to help meet this need for meaning and purpose or be prepared to lose young talent. How are you as employers meeting this need? 

Purpose and possibility

As a coach, my own methodology always begins with purpose – in terms of establishing coaching aims and exploring and defining individual and organisational purpose. I focus on the client, their context and personal ambitions and, at the same time, develop understanding of the organisation, its climate and leadership challenges.
I believe strong leadership is about being bold, courageous, insightful, collaborative and human. It’s about exploring your possibilities and being the best you.

By focusing on purpose, my coaching explores what is possible and centres around where the biggest impacts can make the most difference – so digging deep into purpose and ending with a strong and coherent set of actions.
Coaching helps the leaders I work with, to pause, take time to think, reflect on their personal and organisational purpose, connect with others and communicate effectively to achieve a shared sense of purpose and vision. 

The dichotomy of leadership 

Leaders operating in today’s climate of uncertainty and change are under immense pressure to deliver when the stakes are high. Easy to say, hard to do. Being purpose-driven can prove difficult when profit and margins are under pressure, you’re time-scarce and busy juggling urgent priorities, competing deadlines and leading remote intergenerational hybrid teams, as well as striving to be purpose-led and support your people in being purposeful. Recognising the value of purpose alongside business efficiency and profit is key.
But don’t assume everyone needs the same, there’s another dichotomy at play; need versus want. External pressures and responsibilities, such as financial obligations or family commitments, can influence people to be trapped in pointless rather than targeting their purpose. It's about understanding what your people need and what purpose means to them, in their circumstances. It doesn’t mean they are quiet quitters or disengaged with your purpose, they are doing a job and their true purpose might be very different, maybe theirs is about stability for their family. It’s about how people make meaning, and what’s meaningful for them, shouldn’t be meaningless to you. 

Purpose means more

As we go beyond a January that was full of the usual great goals and intentions, the question remains; are you prioritising stability or pursuing passion?
Are your personal and organisational goals meaningful and purpose-driven? And do your organisational goals inspire and empower your people to pursue their purpose doing some of the most fulfilling work of their lives?
It’s the perfect time to revisit goals and make sure this year is about making it more meaningful, being more purposeful.

As a leader, how are you prioritising purpose?  
Your choice, your purpose?