The Perfect Storm: Now’s the Time to (Re)Discover Your Purpose

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Employers are juggling global instability, the end of furlough, the battle for talent and, poor mental health linked to increased anxiety and burnout as a result of the pandemic.
A few weeks ago I started a series tackling the elements that I believe have created the perfect storm for employers. Employers are juggling global instability, the end of furlough, the battle for talent, and poor mental health linked to increased anxiety and burnout as a result of the pandemic.

I spoke a bit in my last blog about disjointed teams due to many factors. Some employees are returning from furlough but feel disconnected from their teams and the company they work for. Some employees have joined during the pandemic and have never met their colleagues in person and aren’t sure of team structures or who to turn to when they have problems. And even longstanding employees are feeling disconnected due to disruptions in working life and changes to team structures. Your employee engagement surveys tell a story, and it’s not an encouraging one.

Never before has creating a sense of belonging and unity been so important

As many employees are feeling disengaged due to the reasons above, they are searching for a purpose that unites them and gives them a reason to want to come to work each day. That’s why I believe now is the time to make sure your company purpose is clear and compelling and is translated into everything you do.

If you’re still not convinced, your employees probably agree with me. One McKinsey Survey on organizational purpose in 2019 found that 82% of employees think it’s important to have a company purpose, 72% think purpose should receive more weight than profit but only 42% think their organization’s purpose drives impact. These statistics are from before the pandemic. Since then the importance of a uniting purpose has only increased. As one Forbes article put it: “Nothing raises questions concerning life’s purpose like facing mortality”. After a year of turmoil, your employees are looking to you to create a purpose that they genuinely believe in, and to feel part of a group that shares their values.

The case for a strong purpose is clear, but how do you go about creating one that’s genuine and actually works?

I’m sorry to say there isn’t one magic answer to this question, but your people hold the key. Creating a company purpose that unites and motivates, needs deep reflection on what you and your people believe in and stand for.

How you gather the information is up to you. I would suggest something anonymous and structured, so you are able to collate the information and your people are able to be completely honest. Once you have the most important components outlined, involve your people in fine-tuning and tailoring. The best way to create a purpose that your people genuinely believe in is to involve them in its creation.

What are the elements of a great purpose?

There are thousands of opinions when it comes to the elements of the perfect purpose, but there are a few things people generally agree on that you should keep in mind:

  1. Does it inspire and is it authentic?
    A purpose is supposed to motivate and make your people feel proud of what they do. When you are creating or modifying your company purpose, ask yourself if the statement inspires you. Is it memorable? Does it motivate you? If you answer no to any of these questions, then it’s not something that you will bring to life through your behavior. Obviously not every organization is trying to find a cure for cancer. So finding a purpose that inspires may feel challenging. But if you think about what impact your organization has on its main audiences you should be able to identify why you exist and express that in language that brings this impact to life. This way your purpose will sound and feel authentic because it is based on what you do.

  1. Is it sort enough to be memorable but backed up by a deep narrative?
    A good purpose statement should be brief. You and everyone else in your organization should be able to remember it by heart. But it’s easy to be cynical about short statements if they are not backed up by a narrative that reflects what you do. So, I recommend you put real effort into writing the story behind your purpose, as it is this story that will identify what you all believe in and why you behave the way you do.

  1. Is it clear and center stage?
    This goes without saying, but a great purpose shouldn’t need a lot of explaining. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have sessions to introduce and unpack it. In fact I would suggest you do just that, because if you want your purpose to be at the heart of what you do, you need to put it center stage. Whatever you create, it should be simple enough that everyone can understand it without a lot of explanation.

  1. Is it relevant to every team?
    It’s all very well having a clear and well-displayed company purpose but if it doesn’t work at a team level it won’t get you very far. Remember your purpose statement needs to be grounded in what you do as an organization. Your employees need to understand how it translates into their everyday job. Have sessions for each team that helps them understand how the purpose fits in with what they do on a daily basis. And get them to create a version of the deeper narrative that’s relevant for their team.

And finally, remember, a brilliant purpose isn’t static. This probably won’t be the last time you revisit your purpose, but that’s a good thing. As the world of work evolves so should your purpose. Do you have any advice in building a great purpose? What have you done to surface a compelling purpose for your business? I’d love to hear it in the comments below.

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