Book Excerpt: The Purpose Linked Organization
What if we could take the concept of purpose statements further by applying it to the single greatest asset of any organization—its people? What if we began to explore and understand what purpose means for the individual rather than merely for the organization? What if businesses could learn to leverage individual purpose and multiply the power of its impact on motivation, creativity, and results in a way that would make a meaningful difference to both employees and organizational results?
Accessing individual purpose would release a new kind of energy for fueling success. We call it "purpose power," and it's the energy that is generated when the finely tuned corporate engine is working at its best. So just imagine the potential purpose power of an organization like Ford Motor Company, which had 300,000 employees worldwide in 2007. Imagine its impact on the generation of ideas, the development of products, the resolution of market challenges, and the quality of service provided to its customers. Imagine the difference that might have made in the destiny of this 105-year-old industry icon. What CEOs wouldn't want an exponential increase in the power of the corporate engine at their fingertips and the ability to harness and apply that power to the business of growing the business?
The remarkable fact is that this kind of energy is easily within the grasp of every business leader, but it is rarely adequately accessed. Too often, the focus of the organization creates an inhospitable culture in which employee potential cannot be fully realized and purpose power becomes stifled. Both the organization and the workers become trapped by the linearity of metrics and processes in which a prescribed input should produce a predictable outcome. These systems, devoid of the connection to individual purpose, forfeit the benefits that would be obtained from unleashing the passions of employees and the creative seeds those passions contain. If organizations could unleash these passions, they would allow a new type of input that would produce refreshingly new outputs—like groundbreaking designs, innovative approaches to the market, and radically transformed customer experiences. Leaders don't need to look externally for the seemingly elusive magic that will grow a company's bottom line. It already exists, internally, within the cadre of talent that comprises the organization.
The New Competitive Edge Why are so many organizations failing to capitalize on this vital source of success? The reason is that many are simply unaware of the potential that exists in leveraging purpose and passion. Some companies wrestle with these seemingly esoteric concepts and wonder how to make effective use of them for the business, while others believe they are already spending large sums of money on the development of their people and connote dollar amounts with expected results.
While many companies are spending millions of dollars on employee training and development programs, most are doing so without understanding the purpose and passions of the individuals that make the corporate engine hum. Their programs focus on skills or competencies, without delving further into what might provide an outlet for capitalizing on the whole that each individual brings to the business.
Most contemporary leadership models on which these programs are based dictate that when skills and competencies are combined with all the right circumstances, the mix should lead to the kind of outstanding leaders the organization is seeking. The concept may seem sound, but reality doesn't support it. Clearly skills and competencies are important, but they address only a part of the whole of each employee.
Organizations must remember that even if employees cannot put it into words, their need to express their individual purpose flows as an undercurrent in all that they do. As we saw with Karen, there are certain moments in people's careers when the need for an outlet for that purpose becomes all-consuming. Without it, their journey meanders, their actions lack meaning, and their passion is left unexpressed in their work—a combination likely to leave them disengaged, dispirited, restless, … or worse.
At the same time, organizations are feverishly searching for new advantages to compete in the global marketplace. They are seeking the next transformative approach that will help them accelerate the generation of new ideas that will bring unique products to market and shift the size of the court on which the game is played. They want to distinguish themselves from the competition. Yet, as corporate leaders examine ways to become more competitive, what quickly becomes apparent to the seasoned eye is that many organizations have access to similar talent, knowledge, and resources. What truly distinguishes companies from one another is how their talent is maximized so that the organization becomes fueled with imagination—the only true differentiator for success. In freeing the imagination, real distinction might be achieved in the marketplace so that innovative products or services are created that put distance between the organization and its competitors. As Einstein so eloquently pointed out, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world."
While the collective corporate skill set will always be an important factor in achieving success, it makes sense for savvy companies to direct dollars to developing a robust talent pool in a way that also capitalizes on the individual purpose and passions of employees. The investment required for achieving the kind of success that can be realized through purpose and passion is actually minimal in the larger context of corporate spending, especially when compared to the negative impact on results experienced when the corporate engine is starved.
What sets purpose and passion apart from other differentiators of success in which the organization might invest is that their effects are both immediate and long lasting. Most management training processes, however well designed, take an extraordinarily long time to bear fruit. But giving employees an opportunity to follow their purpose and passions at work often can and does yield immediate results; it unleashes enthusiasm, dedication, imagination, and creative energy that can be applied to the business next week rather than next year.
Unlike other programs, processes, and approaches designed to improve organizational effectiveness, purpose and passion for the individual are abiding constants. They don't need to be maintained or updated; they need only be provided a positive outlet for their expression.
What far too few companies recognize is that their employees' purpose and passions give their companies a sustainable competitive edge. These companies ignore this principle at their peril. Now, more than ever, corporations need the commitment and loyalty of their employees. Faced with a global economic crisis and an aging workforce, companies must maximize their investment in their talent pool so that every dime spent produces at least a dollar in return.
As downsizing and realignment take place within organizations struggling for footing in this troubled marketplace, in the layoff exodus are many of the seasoned employees who hold valuable institutional wisdom and history. Even more of a concern is that many organizations' younger employees are choosing to leave jobs because their psychological requirements for personal fulfillment are changing and are not being met. Where past generations were content to spend their lives with one company, patiently moving up the ladder while deferring personal gratification for their retirement years, today's workers in the younger generations are looking for more—even the baby boomers and even in this market. Money, status, title, and recognition are still important, but they are no longer enough to guarantee that the best and brightest will stay the course.
Employees are asking for the organization to shift its focus—to value more than their skills and competencies. The employees want to bring their purpose and passions to work, along with all of their abilities. The business world is now witnessing an unprecedented revolution in the relationship that the individual wants with the corporation.