Purpose FAQ: Does an individual's Purpose need to be the same as the organization's Purpose? Biology helps us answer this.
One of the most frequent questions I get as I talk with CEOs, Senior Leaders and organizations is, "does an individual's Purpose need to be the same as the organization's Purpose?" I often surprise people with the simplicity and emphaticness of my response.
NO! BUT alignment matters!
In fact in most cases, when talking about anyone other than the CEO or other Senior Leaders, the individual’s Purpose typically isn't the same as the organization’s!
Huh? I thought shared Purpose was critical?
Alignment behind a shared Purpose is crucial. BUT that doesn't mean an individual's Purpose is or needs to be the Organization's Purpose or that the Organization's Purpose needs to be the individual’s purpose. However, the two do need to intersect and align in order for things to work best.
BIOLOGY Gives Us Insight
Our bodies (think of this as the organization) are made up of literally billions of cells (think of these as individuals) and many different organs and systems (think of these as Departments and Divisions). Each cell is an entity unto itself with a specific function to perform. Each organ is an entity unto itself with specific functions to perform. Each system has specific functions to perform that contribute to the whole. The aggregate function of all those cells, organs and systems, aligned behind a shared Purpose, creates a well-functioning body that leads to health and well-being. But the Purpose of each individual cell or group of cells varies dramatically. In very simplified terms, the liver’s Purpose is to filter. The heart’s Purpose is to pump blood and oxygen. The lung’s Purpose is to bring oxygen in to the blood. The cells (individuals) and organs (departments) don't have the same Purpose. But they do align behind a unifying force/Purpose: the health and well-being of the body. So, does the organization's Purpose need to be the same as the individuals’ to create an exemplary outcome? No!
Then What is Important?
1) Individuals agreeing that they share the organization's Purpose, and agreeing to work together towards it.
2) Individuals understanding how they're contributing to the shared Purpose.
3) Individuals seeing how the achievement of that shared Purpose contributes to achievement of their individual Purpose.
The Most Common Scenario
So let's take the most common scenario I see every day. An organization defines a higher calling Purpose like, "to build a better world." The individual’s Purpose is, "to earn as much as I can to insure my family is well off and financially secure." At first those two things may seem at odds. But they don't have to be. As a leader, you should see those things simply as data points for additional questions to determine alignment.
What Kinds of Questions?
1) Is the individual inspired by and willing to share the organization's Purpose when at "work."
2) Will the organization's achievement of Purpose allow the individual to achieve his or her Purpose?
If the answer to both is yes, you've achieved Alignment on the most important questions. Do you share common cause(s) and ability to contribute to them? Then it is on to specifics, which will be determined by more specific needs/questions. For example:
1) Is the organization and job structured so that the compensation allows the individual to achieve his or her Purpose? For example, is the expected compensation greater than or equal to what the individual feels is required to achieve his or her Purpose AND in line with averages in the industry? Does the organization expect that to continue moving forward?
2) Is the contribution the individual can make commensurate with the contribution to the organization in realizing its own Purpose? Is the investment in this individual appropriate for the benefit to the organization?
3) Is the path as to how the organization and individual can each achieve their Purposes well defined?
4) Despite the difference in Purpose, do the organization and individual align behind the behaviors that would lead to achievement of their Purposes? Ie. Values. Do they see a common "way of being" that leads them to believe and feel they can both achieve the company and individual Purposes?
If the answer is yes to those questions, despite the initial concern, there may be enough alignment for real success.
Purpose Matters. Shared Purpose and Alignment are Crucial!
Must an individual and organization have the same Purpose? No. But alignment behind the organization’s Purpose, Values and roadmaps to shared successes is critical.
You've got a Mission. You've defined your Values. But, you've seen the research: Purpose-driven companies out perform their peers on 7 out of 8 categories AND return stock appreciation of 1681% to 118%. If you’re like the Executives I work with, the thought of "another retreat" to define your Purpose makes your eyes water and may elicit the muttering of phrases you don't want children to hear. “So I get it, Purpose Matters, now what?”
From Mission to Purpose with the 5 Why Exercise
In Lean (The Toyota Way), the Five Whys exercise was codified as a technique to help people find root cause, the real source of a problem. The essence? If you start with what you’re seeing and ask yourself Why five times (on average), you get to the root cause, the real reason for the problem. The technique, beautiful in its simplicity, is one I've used with remarkable success to speed up the process of Purpose articulation for those who already have well-defined Mission statements. Why? Most people define their mission in terms of WHAT they do. If you ask yourself Why several times, you get to the heart of Why you do it – your cause - and have the potential to inspire your stakeholders. Better yet, I find it only takes 2-3 Whys when working from a well-crafted Mission Statement. Let's give it a try.
Imagine yourself in the Board Room.
State your Mission: "To empower CEOs to articulate, activate and actualize their Purpose."
Ask yourself Why do we do that? "Because I believe purpose-driven companies outperform their competitors AND create a better world."
Repeat a variation of that question, why does that matter?
"Because I'd like to create a world my son and his kids would be inspired to live in, and purpose-driven companies can do that."
Repeat a variation of that question, why do that with business leaders?
“Because I believe business is one of the dominant institutions in society - the one most likely to create change - and I've seen the impact articulating, activating and actualizing purpose can have for individuals and organizations. I’m excited to wake up every morning and work on that.”
Three Whys and we've got what we need to move from Purpose to Mission.
"To positively impact the next 7 generations by empowering leaders to activate, articulate and actualize their Purpose." It, as Simon Sinek would say, "starts with our Why." It is a shared journey that we (the organization) do with our clients, not for the clients. It is aspirational. It is inspiring. It is a never-ending pursuit. It creates an entirely different conversation with our Who, our customers.
If you’ve thought deeply and invested heavily in your Mission, well done! You’re one step closer to articulating your Purpose. Try the 5 Why exercise to move from What to Why and articulate your Purpose.
•Domni Fund: Socially Responsible Investing has beaten the S+P 500 for decades.
–since 1990, the social index (MSCI KLD 400) returned an average annual total return of 10.46% compared with the S&P 500’s 9.93%.
•New Amsterdam Partners: Companies with high environmental, social and governance ratings create shareholder value and are less volatile than lower-rated companies. “Found a clear relationship between stock returns and ESG ratings: higher return companies in aggregate had better ESG ratings. a strong negative correlation between ESG ratings and stock volatility, especially when market volatility was higher.
•Fast Company: Starting and surviving in today’s economy is hard, but the companies that figure it out have something in common: the pursuit of purpose, alongside the pursuit of profit. A purpose mobilizes people in a way that pursuing profits alone never will.
•Harvard Business Review: “Growing body of evidence that companies that are the most successful at maximizing shareholder value over time are those that aim towards goals other than maximizing shareholder value.” Justin Fox, Jay Lorsch, HBR, July/August 2012
•Lisa Hagerman, Janneke Ratcliffe: “In fact, there is growing evidence that activities funded with an eye toward both long-term economic impact and profits have outperformed many purely profit-motivated activities in the same space.” Lisa Hagerman, Janneke Ratcliffe
“In conducting a meta-analysis of 49,928 business units across 192 organizations representing 49 different industries in 34 countries, Gallup scientists discovered that margin and mission are not at odds with one another at all.”
“When promise and behavior are in sync and customers are aligned with a brand promise, they give that brand twice as much share of wallet (47%) as customers who aren't aligned with that same brand (23%)”
Vision with Purpose is that powerful? Yes it is.
You are now free to double your stock price appreciation through integration of Why. How Southwest and Jet Blue beat their competition by 2x with cup holders and early entry.
The past five years airlines have outperformed the S+P 500 - even the ones you curse under your breath when they raise their bag fees while you get ready for holiday travel. But two stalwarts trounce their competitor’s stock appreciation by 2x: Jet Blue and Southwest. Here’s the 5-year return for each and their brethren, United and American Airlines.
It’s because of cup holders and kids lines. No really. Well, kind of. Those are manifestations of a much more powerful force at play, integration of their Why, their mission through their business. Let me explain by starting with their Whys.
Powerful stuff. But, here’s the thing. Other people say powerful stuff. So what makes the difference? Well, that’s where cup holders and kid’s lines come in. It is where you feel the difference of them living their missions, integrating their Why.
When I travel for work, I always travel with something to drink. Then when I go to sit down, I wrestle with the magazine rack in front of me and mutter under my breath as I try to figure out what to do with it. It’s not a great experience. When I sat down on my last Jet Blue flight, there in front of me, in all its magnificence, was a cup holder. Ahhh, a little piece of humanity in the skies.
When I flew Southwest for a family visit, in tow was my delightful and energetic (read impatient) 4-year-old. Boarding on other airlines is very difficult – there’s very little compassion for children. There is no real accommodation for it. On Southwest, well, you get to board a little bit early, which makes all the difference in calming the little guy down and making the trip enjoyable not just for us, but for everyone around us.
Are cup holders and early entry profound? To me they are. But it really isn’t about those things. They’re simply manifestations of an underlying ethos and attention to their Why, their purpose. Through many things, big and small, flying on Jet Blue and Southwest, for different reasons feels different. People notice the little things, a cup holder or early entry. They may not be able to articulate just what is different. But they choose to come back, time and again. That’s a result of Southwest and Jet Blue using a different filter. Not stock price or profitability - those are outcomes from a process. They focus on their mission and the Job to Be Done. The result is a far higher return on investment than others.
You are now free to double your stock price!
Know another company achieving great results by connecting to their Purpose?
Impact 7 Generations helps organizations reach the next level by connecting to their Why and integrating it into their strategy.
The voice and stories from this blog originate from the collective wisdom and experiences not just of our team, but with those we were fortunate to learn from.