The pandemic made all of us stop and take stock of the important things in our personal and business lives. Many companies, too, found themselves considering, or reconsidering, their greater purpose in the world.
“Purpose” means different things to different people, and to different organizations. But increasingly, leaders are aware of employees’ desire to understand what their company is “for” – beyond a paycheck, why should they wake up every day and be motivated to give their best?
Defining and activating purpose can be hard. We’re used to corporate messages that are customer-focused and sales-oriented. But purpose requires us to look beyond the bottom line – to consider the company’s role in the world as a whole.
Arketi recently talked with five senior executives to learn how they lead with intention and put purpose into action. Here’s what they told us.
Our group of leaders reminded us of something we all already knew: when it comes to purpose, companies must think beyond profit and explore ways to authentically align with social responsibility.
That means getting out of the C-suite bubble.
One exec told us their leadership team worked hard to define the company’s purpose – but left many employees in the dark because only executive input was sought. When employees feel disconnected from company purpose, they’re unlikely to embrace it.
Involving everyone in the conversation about purpose not only strengthens the culture – it may also surface new insights. Employees who feel heard, empowered and trusted are more likely to “walk” the purpose “talk.”
How to put this into action, you ask? One way is to survey employees to get their honest opinion of your existing company purpose. Consider one-on-one or small group sessions over coffee or lunch to gather input. How would they shape company purpose if given the chance? There are no wrong answers.
Think, too, about identifying a purpose your organization is uniquely positioned to address. Take what you’re already great at and use it to empower your people.
Defining and activating organizational purpose can be especially difficult when the company has a global footprint, or if it has gone through numerous acquisitions. When employees are scattered across different countries, or come from different cultures, folding everyone’s ideas about purpose into one is downright tough.
One of the leaders we talked with explained their company boiled its corporate purpose down to four core values. Simple language and four short statements created a digestible baseline that everyone can relate to, whatever their background.
“By distilling a longer message into something that’s easy to understand and absorb, we really pared down to the company’s focus,” they shared. We think this sounds like a smart approach, even if your company isn’t that large!
Consumers as well as employees are increasingly concerned with corporate practices and impacts on social justice, sustainability and inclusion. Many report considering a company’s stance on such issues when making buying decisions and career choices. Which makes communicating your purpose all the more important.
Communicating the impact that the company and individual employees are making can be meaningful and motivational. However, our executives caution against blowing your own trumpet. It’s easy to sound self-serving, and nothing undermines authenticity faster than corporate back-patting.
Instead, talk about how the organization’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts are benefitting employees, external stakeholders and the broader community.
“If in doubt, say less and do more,” said one of our experts. “If you’re doing a good job, people will discover and share.”
Now that you’ve read what other communications professionals are thinking about regarding purpose, we want your perspective. How are you and your company defining, promoting and evaluating purpose and impact?
And if you’d like some pointers for starting those meaningful conversations about purpose, we have a purpose assessment you might find useful. Email Mike Neumeier for details.
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