Organisations with a clear purpose tend to be more profitable (see our Business Case for Purpose). The benefits are many, with our best synthesis of the benefits on the slide attached below (probably not exhaustive). A clear sense of purpose adds to strategic clarity, drives cross-functional innovation, is a critical component of an engaged and happy workforce, and strengthens the brand. In this article, we’ll discuss the current ‘purpose gap’, and how to bridge this gap as an organisation.
There are large gaps when it comes to embedding purpose successfully in large organisations: executives in just ~4 out of 10 companies report that their purpose is widely understood, and a poll on the website of HBR showed that half of employees believe their jobs to have no inherent meaning or significance (slide below). A similar finding appeared recently from the UK, where a government poll showed that 37% of the British employees believe their jobs are not contributing to society (second slide below). It is therefore no wonder large consultancy firms, like EY, PwC and BCG have started to focus on purpose as an additional service line. Their resource allocation to the topic of purpose-driven transformation is likely to change the game.
Most organisations are dealing implicitly with the issue at hand, afraid to face an inconvenient reality. This implicit approach has resulted in projects that change the way of working (e.g. Agile, Holacracy) which impact the sense of purpose people experience, but don’t have this as their overarching goal. It is, however, unlikely that this implicit approach will bridge the experienced ‘purpose gap’ for employees, given that the reasons for it are not only determined by the way of working. Only recently have we found that organisations are willing to address the topic of the ‘purpose gap’ openly, and dare to have discussions with their employees about it.
Although it is true that (re-)igniting a sense of purpose in an organisation is a challenging undertaking, it is by no means impossible. We believe it should by default be addressed openly and explicitly through a way of working that combines a keen sense of business strategy with ‘positive psychology‘ (a branche in psychology that leverages existing strengths in people and organisations) and design thinking (a way of working that permits employees to co-design solutions within a certain solution space). The first step in this process is to leave the ‘implicit approach’, and address the topic openly with employees in order to get a better understanding of the problem. During this step, organisations can learn about the % of purpose-driven employees it employs, search for their ‘purpose archetype’ (the overarching goals the organisation contributes to naturally), and discover existing barriers and gaps to a purpose-driven transformation. This step is the first of eight modular steps that we believe are necessary for organisations to go all the way (slide below, example of approach).
Purpose, described beautifully by EY as an ‘aspirational reason for being grounded in humanity’ (or simply as ‘tangible positive impact’ by us), has long eluded organisations due to its abstractness. But times are changing, and having a clear sense of purpose may well be a company’s most critical asset on its way to long term survival.