It brought me to tears often.

It was only one simple word: significance. Yes, our new business had made our “corporate purpose” revolve around just one word, and yet almost none of the 107 employees could recite this one word without being prompted.

I thought that we had checked every box off of our operational checklists, and done everything right as we started our new venture. Not only did we have the tangible tasks completed, but we had also taken the time to intentionally develop a culture that served both our customers and our team.

Every single day, I would ask the team members the same question, “Why do we exist? What is our purpose as a business?” The answers were varied, but again, virtually no one could succinctly answer the question.

At first I foolishly blamed the team. I often thought to myself in a childish manner, “What kind of dope can’t remember a one word answer?” My initial gut reaction, of course, was not correct nor fair to the team.

I knew that frustration would not get us closer to our goal, and I began to take the disconnect to heart…

I felt like a total failure for developing the culture that did not understand what it stood for.

It wasn’t until I made the revelation that although the culture’s purpose was simple and strictly defined; it was the team that was missing purpose in their work.

It didn’t matter what our leadership had written on a piece of paper, and was preaching to the company. Without the employees having conviction and feeling meaning in their work, there was no way that they were going to buy into the purpose that was constructed in a corporate boardroom.

You might be thinking that a lot of companies have a “corporate purpose” though…

I would tend to agree, but what percentage of employees actually know what this statement means? More importantly, how many employees actually live these words with all of their heart, spirit, mind, and action?

I would venture to say that corporate purposes fail to work for two predominant reasons, which are as follows:

  1. They’re too complicated.
  2. Employees don’t feel purpose in their contributions, and don’t align with the company.

Let’s start with that first point. Oftentimes, corporate boardrooms form these statements and “purpose-driven” cultures because “it’s the right thing to do” or “it’s good for business.”

The problem is that they turn their corporate purpose into more of a slogan, a contrived attempt at garnering employee buy-in, jam pack the statement with every buzzword, and/or all of the above.

The repercussions of not having a clear, easy to understand purpose in business is just as bad, if not worse, than not having one at all.

If the team doesn’t understand why the entity exists, then how can the people that you serve possibly know? On top of that, how can your customers excitedly share your business’ story with their network? 

How does one uncover corporate purpose?

I believe that you only have to answer one question: how do you improve the lives of the people that you serve? There are other questions that you can ask. However, it all starts and ends there. Once you have an exact statement that answers that question, the rest becomes much easier to develop.

The other reason for lackluster results with corporate purpose are employees that don’t have personal purpose in their work that aligns with the company. Call it purpose, meaning, or whatever else but it’s the fuel for all of the other positive qualitative factors.

Without purpose, a career quickly becomes the dreaded “job.” The position becomes all about the individual, and the employee demands to know how their employer can service their needs in the form of education, compensation, and stature.

If you think about it, solely profit-driven companies are only looking to leverage its employees for its shareholder returns, and the employee treats the company in the exact same way.

…How do we do help our people uncover more purpose?

I’ve read just about book, listened to every podcast, and watched every video on this topic. I’ve disseminated all of this information, and applied these principles using my life as the guinea pig. This is how I discovered the BASIC framework which is as follows:

Baseline– Notate what is providing and taking energy, and formulate a system for measurement and awareness. (I recommend physically writing everything down in a pocket-sized notebook, and translating it to Evernote).

Assessment Proactively become more self-aware by asking everyone in your network hard questions about your work, and identifying trends in your vocation. 

Strengthen Steward over your relationships, thoughts, behaviors, and actions to identify and focus on positives.

Intentionality Envision the perfect work day, and strategically add little positive behaviors to make daily progress toward that vision. 

Commitment Go “all in” with your current job, lose yourself in service to others, and assume or align with the corporate purpose.

Ultimately, when your people uncover more purpose that was divinely created for them in their work, they’ll either align with the larger corporate purpose, or strengthen the corporate purpose with their own.

This is all good and well, but you’re about tangible results on your P&L, right?

The fact is that purpose-driven businesses are more productive, generate higher sales, keep employees longer, and are more profitable. Entities such as Deloitte, Gallup, and Millward Brown have provided copious amounts of data that state “for purpose” businesses are beating the pants off of strictly profit driven companies. 

Millward Brown summarized this concept best when they said, “Our 10-year growth study that reviewed over 50,000 brands showed that companies who put improving people’s lives at the center of all they do have growth rates that are triple that of their competitors, and they outperform the market by 383 percent.”

Did you get that? You have the opportunity right now to outperform the market by 383 percent by just doing right by your people. Or you can choose to get tears in your eyes when people can’t remember one word.

Speaking from experience, a system of purpose a lot more fun and profitable.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Check out this brief clip from Advisory Board which shows how their deeper purpose applies to their people, and the communities that they serve.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQBDdlofBZQ