In the previous article (Too good to be true?) I articulated our belief that the shift from profit-led to purpose-led thinking has the potential to change the world. We believe it has the power to shift the business paradigm from one in which 60% of employees actively hate their jobs to one in which it’s the norm for people to be proud and energised by their workplace; where young talent seeks out big companies instead of actively shunning them. 

[pullquote]”Only 20% of young people today wanting to work for a big company”


It’s fantastically exciting to see so many huge organisations actively focussed on Purpose. Yet in most corporate organisations, purpose is just not working.  There is a gaping chasm between the purpose articulated by the Board and the reality experienced by the people in the organisation. And if that gap is not bridged, purpose will die, the nay-sayers and cynics will win and a once in a generation opportunity will be lost.

Yet there are organisations where this gap does not exist. It’s easy to see in small, agile, exponentially-growing entrepreneurial companies where the purpose runs through the company like a stick of rock. It’s easy to say this is because they are small or new or exciting (and there is much in that argument) but ‘purpose-led, entrepreneurial thinking’ is not driven by scale or chronology but by an attitude of mind. Would it not be more intelligent to try and identify the beliefs and behaviours that these companies exemplify and see what can be copied?

There are a small but growing list of global organisations that have done just that. These global businesses share a lot of these entrepreneurial attitudes to purpose-engagement. Yet, Apple is not small, REI is not new and Unilever is hardly exciting.

Our experience of these agile and purpose-led businesses reveals a clearly defined list of cultural beliefs and behaviours that are the secret to bridging the gap.

Inspiring leadership helps.  Purpose must be inspiringly and credibly led.  But what the business believes about itself and how it behaves are more important.

[pullquote]Without the beliefs of trust, ownership and context to bridge that gap, muddle, distrust and cynicism will persevere and Purpose will not take root[/pullquote]

The first belief we observe in all organisations that genuinely engage purpose at every level is an absolute commitment to TRUST. Without trust in every vertical and lateral relationship, purpose will not flow through into an agile culture of openness, empathy and innovation. Cultural Competence will not exist.

The second belief pattern is around OWNERSHIP. Unless all the players in the organisation feel – and feel allowed to feel – a powerful sense of ownership of the business and its purpose, it will not flow through into staff behaviours of alignment, engagement and autonomy. Without ownership Staff Competence is weak and customer value compromised.

The final belief drives how effectively decisions are made and strategies implemented. This organisational language we call Context allows for the organisational Purpose to flow through into creating Management Competencies of agility, clarity and velocity.

It’s easy to agree that Purpose is a good thing for organisations big and small.  It’s easy to identify the behaviours of aligned and engaged staff, open and innovative cultures and agile and clear-headed management that we would all love to see in our organisations.  The problem is the gap between the two. Without the beliefs of trust, ownership and context to bridge that gap, muddle, distrust and cynicism will persevere and Purpose will not take root. And that really will be a tragedy.