Why purpose is vital to your business

Purpose plays a part in any business – Helen Rosethorn of Prophet explains why it should be a top priority.

Many credit the millennial generation for valuing purpose in their work.

Perhaps they were the catalyst, but today it seems that we are all searching for meaning through our work and are more considered than ever around the brands we associate with, as employees and consumers.

Particularly within organisations, for employees unsure about job security and tired of bureaucracy, purpose offers a belief that day-to-day actions can deliver longer term benefit beyond the immediate four walls of our working worlds. It sounds like a promising, long-term solution.

However, will purpose be just another trend that companies preach about or can it become a part of the company value system guiding employee practice?

It has to be genuine

Finding that purpose and making it matter for everybody every day is challenging. If it is not genuine, if it hasn’t been defined through an honest and rigorous examination of why an organisation really matters, and to whom, it will fail.

In Prophet’s recent research report, Becoming Purposeful, we spoke to senior executives at leading organisations to understand their perspective on the power of purpose in their business. The insights were very interesting.

Sara Bennison, CMO at Nationwide, agreed, ‘It [purpose] is powerful. When your people understand how your history has driven you to where you are now…by focusing on that longer-term story, you can really improve performance in the shorter term too.

In the last quarter, we have had more current account switching than all the other providers combined. We are number one on cost and number one on customer service too.’

Therefore, beyond purpose being something employees increasingly want and need, and beyond it being rooted in an authentic truth, purpose often has a positive impact on the bottom line too.

Yet, purpose has its work cut out for it against the other organisational or brand values, like vision and mission. Purpose shouldn’t jostle for space with these, instead purpose needs to be the guide supported by a clear set of values and upheld by leaders within the organisation in order to guide people towards it and build into frameworks and decisions around the business strategy.

In our leadership interviews Alastair Pegg, marketing director at The Co-operative Bank, also emphasised the value of leaders being fully engaged, ‘Purpose has to be top down. If your senior leaders don’t buy into the purpose then it’s not going to land as well as it should.’

No wonder we see businesses and other organisations searching for a deeper reason to exist, a reason to get their people out of bed and into work. And no wonder that when organisations define a purpose that is authentic and resonant, it has a powerful and positive impact.

In order to become truly purposeful, and to reap the rewards that purpose can bring here are the four fundamentals that need to be in place.

It’s why your organisation it exists

All the purposeful organisations we have encountered have invested time in defining a credible and meaningful purpose through an honest and rigorous examination of why, at its best, the organisation matters and to whom. For some, it took them back to their roots, but all of them had to question the convention that the only thing that matters is shareholder return and/or financial goals.

Culture and purpose need to be aligned

In the organisations where culture and purpose are aligned, leaders are fully engaged with purpose and they are the key owners. If leaders as role models can fully live this culture, employees are also more likely to benefit from it and feel energised, motivated and empowered.

It can be stifled by competing ideas

Where purpose jostles for space with a gaggle of other core values, it struggles.

Competing ideas, such as vision, mission and ambition bring complexity and confusion. In organisations where purpose is elevated and supported by values that guide people towards it, purpose is not just a rallying cry but at the heart of the cultural engine.

Your purpose must be part of your company’s identity

Where employees not only understand purpose but are empowered to use it with a sense of collective responsibility, it fully comes to life.  People in an organisation need not just to be talking about purpose, but sensing it in what they do and, more importantly, what they decide to do on a day-to- day basis.

For purpose to work, the concept cannot just be a trend – it needs to be truly integrated into a company’s identity. Becoming purposeful is an ongoing process that will take time and effort but it’s a great opportunity for companies to stand out from competition and remain relevant to employees and consumers alike.

Helen Rosethorn is a partner at business growth consultancy, Prophet

Further reading on work values

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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