Exploding the myths about organisational purpose
Organisational purpose is not the latest HR buzzword; it is the beating heart of an organisation. It provides meaning behind all actions, informs executives, attracts customers and engages employees in the reason the organisation exists. Where people are not engaged by their employer’s organisational purpose, they will not be engaged in the businesses strategy – the two are not mutually exclusive.
So, how do you get serious about your organisational purpose? This article is the first part of two that will help you understand the true meaning of purpose and the benefits it brings – by exploring five myths and five truths about organisational purpose.
Five organisational purpose myths to challenge
There is much that is misunderstood about organisational purpose, and much of this has morphed into myths at all levels of an organisation. Here are five of the most commonly repeated organisational purpose myths.
1. Organisational purpose is a short-term tactic used for marketing
Organisations that approach organisational purpose as a short-term marketing tool don’t understand the true sense of purpose. It is not a throwaway strapline that engages people for the length of time it takes markets to change. Organisational purpose encapsulates the beliefs and values by which leaders and employees live and breathe. It gives meaning to all that an organisation does and provides the desire to achieve more in the future.
Organisational purpose is the driving force behind business strategy. Organisations that create purpose as a marketing tool to sell products or services will leave their employees and customers confused as to what to believe and what to expect. On the other hand, genuine organisational purpose is the fuel that energises loyalty of all internal and external stakeholders thus providing a competitive edge when it comes to hiring and retaining the best talent and in the sales arena.
2. Organisational purpose only has meaning for millennials
Organisational purpose is for everyone. It is not only for millennials (who are often seen as the only generation interested in purpose) when the purpose of the employer matches their own social values and their internal belief system. Organisational purpose provides meaning to the everyday tasks, energises future vision, and helps every employee understand how their roles impact the organisation, its customers, and the wider community.
Organisational purpose has the power to gel disparate talents in a collective goal, enabling greater collaboration and teamwork. Moreover, top talent is easier to attract and retain when organisational purpose mirrors their self-beliefs and internal values. When employees believe in their employer’s purpose, their motivation increases – and this empowers achievement of genuine potential.
3. Organisational purpose is only for the worthiest of businesses
A common assumption is that only certain businesses have real purpose: those with an ethical bias, charities, and non-profit organisations, for example. Simply put, this is untrue. Organisational purpose has meaning for all types of businesses, informing an organisation’s employees (and others) of what it stands for in the world and its area of excellence.
Organisational purpose provides a sense of belonging, uniting people in the collective goal and enabling employees to connect their work to the big picture. It provides the meaning that connects people to brand, and positively impacts employee engagement.
4. The cost of organisational purpose is profit
It is true that purpose is given higher value than money for both organisations and individuals. While people may always do what they must to survive, when a new opportunity that aligns with their personal values and beliefs comes along offering similar rewards, they will move. This is the nature of purpose.
Organisational purpose is the glue that binds people together with values and beliefs, but this does not mean that it is more important than making a profit. They are, in fact, equal partners. Making a profit is essential to survival. It is what enables companies to pay their employees and attracts shareholders to invest for the future. However, organisational purpose is the foundation on which longevity is built. It drives people to do their best work and engages customers with the brand.
The key here is that unless organisational purpose is driving profitability, then the organisation will very soon cease to exist. Shifting focus from profit-based targets to purpose-based conversations creates the environment in which a deeper and more meaningful discourse is conducted with all stakeholders – and it is this that will determine long-term revenue and profit growth.
When executed effectively, organisational purpose should provide the dual benefits of business growth and profitability that sustains an organisation through evolving market trends.
5. Organisational purpose is the new ‘green sheen’
The fifth myth that should be expelled is that organisational purpose is the new ‘green sheen’ – the use of marketing to create an impression of environmental friendliness which is, in fact, not true.
It is impossible to mislead people about purpose, because organisational purpose is far larger than a marketing exercise. It requires a long-term commitment with actions that evidence promises. Without this evidence, an organisation’s stories of its purpose lack meaning and credibility. How does an organisation provide this evidence? The short answer is by being transparent in all it does: in communications, actions, behaviours, goals, etc. Only then will all stakeholders understand that organisational purpose is more than lip service.
These five myths are commonly repeated, at all levels internally and externally. Successful companies understand that such misconceptions are damaging to long-term growth, especially in a world in which customers are increasingly aligning with a higher imperative than price when making purchasing decisions. The same is true of employees – those organisations in which individual purpose is aligned with organisational purpose are more able to attract and retain the best talent.
To foster game-changing customer and employee loyalty, it is essential to communicate your organisational purpose across work silos, functions, and your generational mix. To discover how to communicate your purpose and understanding of it within your organisation, please read this recent Aliaxis case study.
Learn more about purpose in our next article, ‘Getting serious about your organisational purpose: Part 2’.