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Haley Rushing

Co-founder, Chief Purposologist | The Purpose Institute

October 8, 2018

How to Bring Your Company Purpose to Life

Have you fully activated the power of purpose in your organization? Your company purpose is a tool for motivating and engaging employees and driving company performance. 

Purpose is a buzzword you hear in the business world all the time, but what is the real impact? Haley Rushing, Co-founder and Chief Purposologist at The Purpose Institute, shared the importance of purpose at a recent Small Giants fishbowl. Not only do companies with a clearly-defined purpose outperform their competitors, they also have happier, more engaged employees. But it's not just about defining your purpose — you also have to do the work of bringing your purpose to life within your organization.

Here's how to find your purpose and create a game plan for bringing it to life everyday. 

purposeWhy Purpose?

Simply put, purpose is what drives us. As humans, we need purpose in our lives. At work, employees thrive when their work has purpose. Society at large expects companies to have a higher purpose that contributes to the common good. Plus, when organizations have a purpose, they tend to experience better business results.

What about purpose drives productivity and engagement? We might think that the best way to motivate employees is to offer them a bigger carrot: more money, a powerful title, or flashy perks. In fact, research shows that what actually motivates employee is much deeper. People are driven by autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose in their work. In the ideal role, employees describe feeling in control and purposeful — they're great at what they do and getting better every day, and their work is making a positive difference in the world.

Gallup's Engagement Model shows that purpose is a key driver of employee engagement. In fact, their data uncovered that in companies with a strong sense of purpose, 73 percent of employees were fully engaged — but in companies without a sense of purpose, only 23 percent of employees were fully engaged. Likewise, purpose is a path to higher performance. In Jim Collins' Built to Last, the author points to a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business that found organizations with a higher purpose and core values outperform the general market 15 to 1 and outperform comparison companies 6 to 1.

In yet another long-term study (Corporate Culture and Performance, Kotter & Heskett), Harvard researchers found that in values-driven organizations, revenue grew 4 times faster, job creation was 7 times higher, and stock price grew 12 times faster than companies without strong cultures. The big takeaway is what we all inherently know about ourselves: when you're dedicating yourself to something that truly matters to you, you feel better and do better. 

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your purpose.” - Aristotle


Discovering Your Company Purpose

Now that you know purpose is important, how do your find yours? Uncovering purpose is a process. Ideally, you'll make it a collective exercise and enlist the hearts and minds of your people in the process. People support what they help create

First, let's define what a core purpose is (and what it's not). A core purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world. Why do you exist beyond making money? Surprisingly, most people don’t know what their companies stand for. In a Gallup survey, only 37 percent of front-line employees knew what their company's purpose or mission was. Think about that: front-line employees are supposed to be champions of your brand. If only a third of them know what you actually stand for, how can they confidently represent you? 

The purpose discovery process helps your entire team get really clear about your principles, your passions, and what you stand for. You'll find your purpose when you understand:

  • What does the world need you to do?
  • What are you built to do?
  • What do you care to do?

You need all three elements to be successful, and your purpose exists at the intersection. But those are big questions — get started by exploring a few key questions with your team: 

  • What do you love about the work of your organization?
  • What about the work of your organization is deeply gratifying and rewarding?
  • What things make you the most proud? Tell me a story that embodies what makes you proud to work here.
  • What are you deeply passionate about doing that your organization enables you to pursue?

The next step is to begin the work of articulating your purpose. When you're writing your core purpose, there are five steps to guide the process:

1. Set the 'how' aside. Your 'how' will change and evolve over the years. Instead, focus on the unchanging motivation of the business.

2. Stay focused. Get to the heart of what matters most, resist the urge to say too much. 

3. Keep it simple. Opt for clarity over cleverness and creativity. Remember: it's not a tagline, it's your purpose.

4. Aim high. Shoot for a lofty and noble goal that you’re capable of achieving when you’re at your best.

5. But not too high. Be specific about the impact you’re trying to make. You don't want to end up in the ether — avoid cliches like "revolutionize the industry" and "change the world." Be specific: in what particular way are you making the world a better place?

Bringing Your Purpose to Life

Once you've defined your company's core purpose, it's time to do the hard work of bringing it to life. Your business model and strategy have to align with and advance your purpose. At first, there's going to be a gap between the aspiration of your purpose and the current reality of your organization. It's important to deal with the dissonance head-on and be prepared.

Think of it this way: the prevailing belief you're up against is that the real purpose of your business is to maximize profit and make money for the shareholders. It's hard for people to accept the new belief that the purpose of the business is to fulfill a higher meaning and make a difference in the world. Help create buy-in by designing a game plan that instills your purpose in your strategy, innovation, customer experiences, talent management, and metrics for success. 

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for bringing purpose to life. But if you're truly fulfilling your purpose, it'll show up in key company practices.

Here's a quick guide for keeping purpose at the heart of your organization:

  1. Use your purpose as an animating force for everything. Think of your purpose as the lens through which you look at everything in the business. For every decision, ask: is this going to help us fulfill our purpose? Think critically about the upcoming priorities on your to-do list. Is everything on that list going to help fulfill or advance your purpose? And what should be on that list but isn't?
  2. Use purpose to drive innovation. Innovation for innovation's sake is an unfulfilling rat race. Purpose fuels your innovation and keeps the business moving in the right direction. Are you continually innovating to create a reality more in line with your purpose?
  3. Use purpose to drive extraordinary customer experiences. Let your purpose inform your customer service. Use a stakeholder model to think about the whole community and how you can positively impact your customers, suppliers, employees, the community and society at large. Is your purpose reflected in customer experiences? What would be the most meaningful way to bring your purpose to life for customers? What would make your purpose so blatantly obvious you’d never even have to say it?
  4. Communicate, cultivate and celebrate your purpose.  When you're living your purpose and values, a strong culture follows. Center your reward and recognition initiatives around purpose and values. Can you show how every role and function cultivates your purpose? Vocalize how each employee's work directly contributes to your driving mission.
  5. Hold yourself accountable to something nobler than “making money.” Are your metrics purpose-driven? If financial metrics continue to be all that matters, your purpose will not take root. Establish two elements: 1) What will we measure to track progress on fulfilling our purpose? and 2) How will our purpose make us more successful? The goal is to formulate a simple set of metrics that signal to the organization how it will hold itself accountable to purpose.


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About Haley Rushing

Haley is the Co-founder and Chief Purposologist at The Purpose Institute--a consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations discover and bring to life their Core Purpose beyond making money. With a Purpose in place, decision making becomes easier, alignment happens naturally and performance soars. She co-authored the Wall Street Journal bestselling book entitled: It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why every extraordinary business is driven by purpose. This book guides leaders through their own journey of understanding the genuine Purpose at the heart of the organization and teaches them how to harness that purpose in order to make a real difference in the world. Haley has helped several of the country’s most visionary organizations discover and articulate their core purpose and authentic core values, including Fortune 500 companies like Southwest Airlines, Walmart, Whole Foods Market, Charles Schwab, GE, Interstate Batteries, NBC Universal; non-profits like The American Council on Education and the American Red Cross; and numerous universities, including Texas A&M and The University of Texas. A native of San Antonio, Texas, Haley has a background in cultural anthropology from Vassar College and the University of Pennsylvania and studied alternative dispute resolution at The Wharton School of Business.