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Why 'Purpose' Is Not Enough

Aligning the mission of an enterprise with the personal aspiration and values of employees is one of the greatest leadership challenges of our time. Purpose must have enough breadth to be seen and understood clearly by everybody, and yet be specific enough to differentiate an organisation in a powerful way from competitors. According to the ‘Shared purpose’ survey report from the United Kingdom’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development,

“Employees who feel their organisation has a whole sense of shared purpose are significantly more likely to state their organisation involves them from the outset in contributing to and shaping big decisions ... shared purpose tends to produce a ‘co-creation’ atmosphere, while lack of purpose results in a ‘tell and sell’ approach.”

Despite what many organisations believe, purpose isn’t a mission statement and values on office walls. While it is essential for a business to articulate who it is and what it stands for, on its own it isn’t enough to sustain engagement. Purpose establishes your leadership in your area of expertise, defines what you want to achieve, and guides how that will happen. A higher purpose sets souls on fire. This subtle yet powerful distinction is often the difference between success and failure.

Like striking a match, higher purpose lights people up. It is felt and experienced – an intangible force that gives us something to believe in.

High performing teams consist of people who understand this distinction – that higher purpose isn’t something we do. Rather, it is an invitation to devote ourselves, in fact, to surrender to an idea greater than ourselves, while at the same time being part of a collective cause stretches us into new terrain as individual human beings, empowering us to act as somebody else before eventually becoming somebody else. A higher purpose equips teams to get around some of their biggest roadblocks to effective collaboration, such as differing opinions and misalignment of values, which when understood and leveraged, become powerful performance catalysts. Importantly, if you’re a leader struggling to turn your team around, a shinier and more technologically advanced system, process or strategy isn’t going to help you.

Catalyst DNA is a framework for identifying a higher purpose that I developed over ten years teaching advanced collaboration skills to organisations. In conjunction with the Catalyst Engagement System™ in Emergent, the framework equips us to overcome the confines of ego and aspire to be someone greater – the boldest and best version of ourselves – creating essential pathways for connection, intimacy, and contribution. Catalyst has been applied to spark global movements and achieve results for some of the most complex team challenges and critical causes, aligning enterprise mission with the aspiration and values of people to fuel engagement – be it high-performing teams, customer tribes, or grassroots communities.

When seeking to clarify a higher purpose for your team or organisation, get people together and ask the following:

What business are we really in? This helps to identify who your real customers and stakeholders are and what they need from you. Understanding who you are and, even more importantly, who you are not, helps communication, products and services, and engagement to have more focus and impact.

What is the tangible value we offer? In other words, how do people benefit. How does society benefit? Is there a complex social issue that intersects with your business that you can solve? For example, access to education, mental health, homelessness, or food scarcity? How can your teams make a bigger difference?

What is the impact (end result) of your efforts? Visualising higher purpose as an outcome rather than specific services or products your business offers will inspire people to engage with that purpose, fuel higher levels of engagement and performance, and ultimately transform the culture and impact of your organisation.

Until next time...


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