This is a question that really bothers me. It’s great that so many organisations are working on purpose, talking about purpose and publishing statements about purpose. But why is so little of this making meaningful change? And how do we stop this just becoming the latest management and consultancy bandwagon?

We wondered what the people on the front line of the Purpose movement thought. So, we brought together people who run huge global corporations and the big strategic consultancies who advise them, with the Heads of international Charities deeply involved with purpose in society, and some top entrepreneurs to whom purpose is the founding principle of their business to spice up the mix.[pullquote]”The cult of efficiency can dehumanise people, create silos and lead companies to do some really stupid things”[/pullquote]

The debate was fascinating.

What we are doing now is just not working

In a couple of hours of honest and quite powerful conversation a number of things became incredibly clear:

  • What we are doing now is just not working. The Friedmanian idea that the purpose of business is simply to maximise profit has created organisations that ignore the human and so are inherently unsustainable. There has been a fundamental breakdown of trust between business and society; less than a third of people think business is even ethical.
  • Equally flawed is the idea that people are fundamentally self-serving and performance can be best enhanced through control, fear and intrinsic reward. This notion has been comprehensively debunked and yet is still the founding principle driving how most large organisations manage their people.[pullquote]”We need to put human beings back at the heart of business. Human beings we are relationship orientated and hard-wired to seek a bigger purpose”[/pullquote]It has created a situation in which 92% of people feel their job is actually a detriment to their welfare. We need to find a different way to manage organisations. A way that considers the whole person – and that means our people, our customers and the broader society we live in.



Happiness is the new productivity

[pullquote]”Happiness is the new productivity and what creates happiness is meaning-making (purpose) ” – Rich Fernadez[/pullquote]At the same time there is plenty of evidence that organisations with aligned and happy staff and with honest and adult relationship with their customers and communities are more productive, more profitable and more valuable to their shareholders.  And what fundamentally underpins all of this is a clearly articulated and motivating sense of purpose. To quote Rich Fernadez  “Happiness is the new productivity and what creates happiness is meaning-making (purpose)”

And this is just not an option anymore. Businesses without clear purpose are just not agile and responsive enough in a world of rapidly accelerating innovation velocity and exponentially increasing information. Without the clarity and agility that clear purpose brings to every level in an organisation the business will suffocate.

And there’s another problem. In a fully connected and increasingly transparent world, the citizen and not the brand holds the power. And more and more people are as interested in our beliefs and the purpose we serve as in our products.

An inauthentic purpose is worse than no purpose at all

[pullquote]”Many corporates historically have used purpose simply as a PR exercise. There’s a SAY-DO gap – a lack of integrity around purpose”[/pullquote]

If this is so clear to those who run global organisations, then why is purpose not working in most global businesses? Two things became very clear.

In complex, dynamic organisations it requires an enormous amount of sustained focus to create a unified sense of purpose. Making a statement of purpose is just not enough; in fact without a complete transformation of how people are treated (trust, autonomy) at every level in the organization it can be actively damaging.

“Many corporates historically have used purpose simply as a PR exercise. There’s a SAY-DO gap – a lack of integrity around purpose”. That can be very damaging

[pullquote]”The greatest mistake is not being authentic. An inauthentic purpose is worse than no purpose at all”[/pullquote]

And purpose must be completely authentic. The purpose needs to fully congruent with the values of the business and encompass how everyone operates.


Five principles for survival

Remarkably, at the conclusion of the debate, what almost all of these business and third sector leaders agreed upon was that an organisation is at its maximum potential when everyone is working to the common good.

And to achieve that, and to maximise business potential and even survival in today’s changing environment, businesses need five clear things:

  1.     The imagination and integrity to see the whole person
  2.     A clear purpose that is authentic and congruent
  3.     The courage of conviction to drive that purpose throughout the business
  4.     Inspiring leadership committed to sustaining the purpose
  5.     Effective communication channels

To see the full output from the debate click here