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What it Really Means to Have a Company Purpose

This article was based on episode 244 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


For thousands of years, humans have thought about their own individual purposes on Earth. It wasn’t until recently that the idea of an organizational purpose ever existed. Now, Modern Managers are tasked with an exciting new challenge in the workplace: to help their teams discover how their individual purposes can align with the greater company purpose. As Mark Twain once said, “The most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you figured out why you were born.” When our teammates come to work inspired and empowered, they show up differently.


Here to guide us through having these discussions about purpose with our teams is Ranjay Gulati. Ranjay is an author, educator, and researcher who is passionate about how to unlock organizational and individual potential. He shares with us here what a company purpose is, how to make it actually stick, and why it should lead to greater profits and better relationships in the long run.


WHAT IS A COMPANY PURPOSE?


Let’s start from the very beginning. What is a company purpose, anyway? According to Stanford psychologist Willian Damon, a purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something meaningful to the self that has consequences for the world beyond the self.


A company purpose is much bigger than just a mission statement. It’s the why behind your entire operation. Why does your organization exist? What markets are you trying to serve? What other businesses inspire you? A company purpose allows us to get out of the day-to-day whirlwind, and think more expansively. It helps us then have more clarity about the strategies we choose to accomplish our goals.



WHAT MAKES FOR A DEEP COMPANY PURPOSE?


Ranjay differentiates between a company purpose and a deep company purpose based on how strongly the purpose is embedded in the minds and actions of the company employees.


It Must Trickle Down to Actions

A deep company purpose can’t be superficial. It’s not about how many inspirational posters you plaster around your office or what you say on your website. It’s about how things actually work; how you choose strategies, allocate resources, do hiring and promotion, address DEI, and measure success with your teammates. For a company purpose to be transformational, it needs to actually be followed through on in all areas of your office life.


It Leads to Long-Term Financial Sustainability

Purpose is a long term value. Many people often confuse purpose with an altruistic, charity mindset. But a deep company purpose isn’t about being generous or giving things away. For purposes to really succeed in implantation, profitability is an integral part of that success. A deep company purpose helps you think long term about how to make your organization sustainable, which includes being financially viable. You need to make sure that all your stakeholders, such as employees, vendors, and community members, in addition to your customers, clients, and shareholders, are going to benefit from your actions. Thinking long-term allows you to consider what tradeoffs and choices you need to make in the short term.


GET YOUR TEAM TO START THINKING ABOUT PURPOSE


Our job as leaders is to help people discover that what they do matters. Understanding our impact and seeing our role as bigger than ourselves dramatically affects our drive and sense of self worth. There’s a famous story about a janitor at NASA who was asked by President Kennedy in 1962 what he does. He responded, “I’m here to put a man on the moon.” When we know how our role is connected to the greater company purpose, our whole mindset changes.


For some, starting a conversation about individual purpose can feel awkward and very personal. Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks coined the term “caring leadership”. Pete explains that we can’t coach people if we don’t know them. So step number one with identifying individual purpose for your teammates is to build the foundation of trust and connection. Once that’s established you begin the conversation to connect what your team member cares about with your company purpose.


Help your team understand why what they’re doing matters. Consider what problem you’re trying to solve and who your target audience is. Ask yourselves how these values can be reflected in all areas of your office life. And continue to build the relationships on your team so you really understand how everyone can contribute to the greater whole. Purpose is moving into the management world at full speed. Managers who can align their teams with their greater purpose will see incredible shifts in the workplace.



KEEP UP WITH RANJAY


Get 1 of 3 free copies of Ranjay’s book, Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.


This article was based on episode 244 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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