Practicalities of Purpose

By Jeremy Salter, Employee Engagement Lead.

I recently attended an HR leaders forum in Sydney.

Purpose was a popular theme with several presenters describing how their organisations were working with it.

I remember thinking Aaron Hurst is right, the Purpose Economy has arrived.

Purpose obviously matters. It is a hot topic at the moment and justifiably so. According to Deloitte 73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don’t.

If a company values its culture, it’s essential to define its purpose. Bersin by Deloittes (Predictions for 2017), tells us that study after study have shown that companies with a strong sense of purpose and a clearly defined set of cultural values outperform their peers. Employee engagement, which is how employees react to your organisation’s culture is more challenging than ever. We’ve heard for years that highly engaged employees are more productive, have lower absenteeism, reduced churn, deliver better customer service. So then this conversation reverts to purpose.

I understand the importance of purpose but am sometimes frustrated by vague purpose statements that defy measurement or practical application.

Perhaps part of the problem is purpose has traditionally been expressed as an aspiration, a destination rather than a process. A noun rather than a verb.

I was therefore excited by the very practical ways one of the organisations represented at the forum was working with purpose.

This organisation had developed an innovative way to measure and communicate to employees the real-time impact of its products on the lives of its customers.

In doing so this organisation had made its purpose real. Something that could be measured. Something that employees could influence and improve upon.

Whilst plenty of organisations analyse and report their impact on the world I don’t know of many that can report on the impact of their employees at an individual level.

It was encouraging to see that this is changing. After all, how can we work with purpose if we cannot meaningfully measure the purpose of our actions?

A more practical approach to purpose would I believe be helpful.

An approach that acknowledges that purpose can be derived from any task as long as the purpose of the task is understood and progress can be meaningfully measured.

Such an approach would help democratises purpose by disentangling it from a cause. It might also encourage organisations to think more about the process of purpose than the definition.

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