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When to focus on purpose to motivate your team

  • LinkedIn

Feature with  HYER

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There is a clear disconnection between employees and their organization's fundamental purpose. Purpose statements, when they exist, frequently fall prey to the pitfalls of vagueness or lofty aspirations, or both. To truly harness the transformative power of purpose in steering business success, leaders must adeptly navigate the delicate balance between idealism and pragmatism. This exploration delves into the art of developing and implementing a purpose that is not only clear and demanding but also adeptly spans the chasm between current strategies and long-term aspirations.


Being purpose-driven is no easy feat. It can feel like an endless journey, striving towards a horizon that remains just out of reach. An ambitious purpose sets a high bar, instilling a constant sense that current efforts are never enough. However, lowering the bar or neglecting to define purpose altogether diminishes the significance of the team's collective endeavors.


A 2019 survey by PWC revealed that a mere 28% of employees felt connected to their company's purpose, with even fewer considering their organization genuinely purpose-driven. This lack of purpose manifests in various issues such as disengagement, short-term thinking, incrementalism, and inertia. Compounding the problem is the prevalence of flawed purpose statements in most businesses—either bland descriptions of the current state or lofty commitments to do good that lack a tangible connection to the business's actual operations.


Unlocking the potential of purpose to drive business forward requires leaders to strike the right balance between idealism and pragmatism. This equilibrium isn't merely about crafting a purpose statement; it extends into daily decision-making, strategy execution, and maintaining collective momentum. To lead purpose-driven teams effectively, leaders must grapple with four crucial questions.


How is our purpose expressed in the business today?


Crafting a compelling purpose statement demands precision and strategic clarity. A well-crafted purpose goes beyond a string of words; it serves as a rallying point that inspires focused, committed action. To achieve this, consider the following tips:


  • Careful Craftsmanship: The choice of words matters. A purpose statement should avoid vagueness and be easy to remember. A poorly written statement hampers decision-making and fails to reconnect employees with a sense of purpose.

  • Startling Clarity: Simplicity is key. A purpose statement should encapsulate strategic nuances, defining where the business operates, its uniqueness, target beneficiaries, and the envisioned long-term impact.

  • Decades of Stretch: A purpose statement shouldn't be a truism about the current state of the business. Instead, it should serve as an aspirational call to action, driving transformation and innovation over the long term.

Consider the transformation of Arxada, a global chemicals company. Initially, their purpose, "Making daily life safer, cleaner, healthier, and greener," lacked specificity, resembling statements from competitors. A revamped purpose, "Better science to solve the world's toughest preservation challenges," strikes a balance between ambition and specificity. It challenges Arxada to excel in scientific innovation, reduce environmental impact, and expand its business scope.

Does our purpose open up opportunities and demand change?


A purpose should not only create opportunities but also necessitate change. The "Bin, Bank, or Build exercise" prompts teams to consider what aspects of the business they must discard, retain, or develop for the purpose to thrive. This exercise delves into various dimensions, including lines of business, innovation, processes, talent, culture, and capabilities.


Balancing idealism with operational realities, teams must avoid commercially naive decisions. Discarding growth-promoting elements jeopardizes the business's existence, while building products misaligned with the purpose risks creating cynicism or reputational damage. These decisions should not only align with purpose but also unlock new revenue streams, offsetting any losses.


Does our purpose integrate long-term plans with current strategy?


Crafting a purpose with longevity requires meticulous planning and integration with current business strategy. Gallup's 2021 report highlighted that only 22% of employees feel leaders have a clear direction for their organization. To avoid this disconnect, purpose-driven organizations intertwine purposeful business goals with a strategy that makes growth and impact interdependent. This clarity ensures teams understand their objectives, fostering a deeper commitment to core business strategy and more effective execution.


How can I use our purpose to make daily decisions and celebrate progress?


Leaders, often biased towards action, may view reconnecting with purpose as an indulgence. However, there are strategic moments where idealism trumps pragmatism. Fully engaging teams with the business's purpose necessitates real, open conversations. One-way communication falls short; instead, invite teams to scrutinize the high-level thinking and planning. Before committing to the purpose, teams seek answers to critical questions:


  • Why now? What is the unvarnished case for change?


  • Does it align with our daily activities, current strategy, and decision-making processes?


  • Do our leaders genuinely believe in it?


Addressing these queries deepens team engagement, prompting them to grapple with the purpose's demands. Not everyone connecting with the purpose signals a clear direction for the business. To infuse purpose into daily operations, leaders must embrace pedantry, repetition, and discipline:


  • Be Pedantic About Words: Precision matters. The purpose, carefully crafted initially, should guide every decision, ensuring alignment with the overarching vision.

  • Be Boring and Repeat: Consistency is key. Repeatedly emphasize the purpose, integrating it into long-term plans and current strategies to maintain a cohesive narrative.

  • Be Disciplined in Celebrating Progress: Acknowledge every small step forward. Progress is not confined to grand successes; setbacks often harbor valuable lessons and progress.

A purpose-driven approach isn't a one-time endeavor; it requires ongoing commitment and strategic alignment. By meticulously balancing pragmatism and idealism, leaders can instill a sense of purpose that not only motivates but also propels the business toward sustained success. In the dynamic realm of business evolution, a purpose that integrates seamlessly with daily operations becomes the driving force behind a thriving, impactful organization.

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