“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, “Maxims and Arrows” Twilight of the Idols
We must all know, the world is full of what has now become a constant: change. There are many academic studies denoting the effects on human behaviour from operational stress and organisational transformation. This, having significant impact on productivity and performance, also causes a detrimental impression on personal wellbeing.
But this is nothing new, as the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus commented over 2,000 years ago “You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you” – all very profound, but it indicates the length of time that we’ve been facing uncertainty. Throughout history we’ve sought sanctuary in the comfort of predictability and the surety of knowing what’s to come. Faith has always provided, throughout all corners of society, a sense of belonging and a condition of trust in a Higher being, giving a sense of resolution and offering a raison d’être so important for motivating people who are navigating their way through a changing world.
To bring this back to earth, the reason for this piece is to emphasise to businesses how vital it is to provide its people with a constant at its core. All organisations have it, it’s called purpose.
Purpose is the ‘north star’, the ‘guiding light’, the one aspect of a company that will never change. No matter what happens in society, the economy, technological advances or international mobility – the purpose of a company is unyielding.
Purpose therefore forms the structural foundations on which a business rests, whilst also being the animating force behind the company vision and mission statement. It transcends economic gain as the core philosophical heartbeat which drives the business forward. Without a company purpose, employees cannot be fully engaged, and as Professor Birkinshaw (Professor of Strategy at the London Business School) notes, “You cannot foster true innovation without engaged employees”.
At a practical level, purpose is equally the most important asset for attracting and retaining top talent, and increasingly, businesses are becoming aware of its inherent power. What potential hires are looking for in a business is shifting – bringing about what the U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation terms the “purpose zeitgeist”. A study by Deloitte found that two out of three millennials stated their organisation’s purpose as the reason why they chose to work there. With millennials predicted to comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025, the role purpose plays in attracting and retaining talent is more important than ever before.
Where there is a powerfully articulated purpose, change affords new opportunities and allows people to fulfil aspirations. Within business, change can be an unsettling (and sometimes painful) experience. Whether there is a restructuring of pension plans, a reformulation of leadership, business transformation or an M&A, it is vital to provide the one key constant in which employees can hang on to: purpose. Any storm can be weathered when purpose is championed.
Communicating an organisation’s purpose can mean many things, but an ethereal statement it is not. Attracting and retaining top talent requires a strategy that is tangible and woven into the fabric of the business. It is not a poster on a wall, nor is it a blanket reminder email. It is not simply broadcasting a few paragraphs within your Employer Value Proposition (which is, however, a critical enabler for delivering the purpose). As Gallup notes, “a company’s purpose has to be a lot more than words”. The articulation of purpose must be effectively embedded so that it means something to the individual, regardless of role. True alignment is challenging, but achievable.
Finally, an emotional connection is imperative. When there is an emotional connection to the business, people feel valued and confident to perform to their full potential. Research conducted by the Korn Ferry Institute found that 90% of employees in purpose-driven companies reported feeling engaged with the business. Purpose can be utilised to unleash untapped potential of employees, but only with an effective strategy. A study conducted by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, published as the book “Built to Last”, found that an effectively articulated purpose made all the difference: between 1926 and 1990, a group of companies who were guided by a “visionary” purpose – beyond making money – returned six times more to shareholders than explicitly profit-driven rivals.
What becomes apparent is that if we wish to drive productivity and performance in changing times, it is critical to share a constant: a purpose, to give it all a reason.
— Christopher Hopkins, Founding Director and Lead Communications Consultant