The Importance of Purpose
I’ve been reading the inspiring book by Dan Pontefract entitled The Purpose Effect, so purpose has been, understandably, on the forefront of my mind. As I wrote in my post last week, the importance of identifying purpose in a company’s overall Corporate Social Responsibility plan is clear. Whether you’re measuring employee engagement, community engagement, talent acquisition and retention, media attention, productivity, or efforts put forth in sustainability – having a purpose-driven culture moves the needle in all of these areas.
I began to think about my personal journey in search of purpose. Starting my career in government as a young environmental attorney was the perfect avenue to combine my passions with my sense of purpose. Not only did I feel that I was contributing to society by working for the government and defending our natural resources, but there was also a comradery and community amongst other workers all aligned with the same mission – and it was palpable. Oftentimes there’s an unfair stereotype of government workers being lazy bureaucrats. I can say from first-hand experience, this is the farthest thing from the truth when you’re working in an agency that has a mission and a heart-centered purpose. I, and my colleagues, worked much harder and for longer hours than our below-market compensation would typically warrant. It was, as Pontefract describes in his book, the “sweet spot” of having a Personal Purpose, Role Purpose, and Organizational Purpose. This may explain why employees who are part of a purpose-driven culture are willing to accept less compensation.
My next two jobs, while certainly having a “purpose,” were not with companies that had an underlying mission, a company vision, or written set of values. Both positions were in the private sector. One with a large law firm and the other with a Fortune 100, publicly-traded, multi-national, industrial company. While the work was challenging and sometimes exciting (at the company; not so much at the firm), it seemed that the “purpose” was to be competent, represent the client, keep them out of trouble, and negotiate the best outcomes for the company within parameters of the law. There was little emphasis on keeping employees engaged. There was sparse attention to external stakeholders (other than governmental entities). Sure, I was well-compensated, got to see the world, travel first class, stay in five-star hotels and eat well (and pay off my school loans in the process), but throughout these experiences, I felt as if I was doing a J-O-B. The best result from my employer’s perspective was one that reduced exposure for my client – and that was the goal as opposed to one that was aligned with a particular set of values.
Then I had the idea to create an environmental advocacy nonprofit organization that worked with the music industry. You might ask how that could occur – who puts the idea of environmental law + public education + musicians into the same space, right? Well, would it surprise you if I told you that I was following my passions and purpose in doing so? Of course not! Simply stated, I was finding a “Role Purpose,” aligned with my own “Personal Purpose” and in turn, created organization that encapsulated all of this in an “Organizational Purpose.” Sometimes, it is said, if you want your dream job, you have to make it yourself. And that is what I did – for 15 years.
What was rewarding about this type of job in the “sweet spot” of purpose, was that I reaped my own personal satisfaction from this work, and interestingly enough, it attracted others who self-identified as having a similar “personal purpose,” seeking a “role purpose” in a company with an “organizational purpose” in alignment with their own values. This particular sweet spot of purpose resonated with thousands of people every year who donated funds, became members, talked about us on social media, told their friends, and who wanted to sport our merchandise, volunteer for us, intern with us, and work for our organization. To be honest, it’s a golden example of how purpose can drive success. Of course, it’s not unusual for this alignment of purpose to be found in the nonprofit sector. After all, nonprofits are driven by mission, vision, and values. Nonprofits attract people (employees, volunteers, and donors) who are similarly motivated to help a cause. Those same people are not driven primarily by profits or by compensation or any expectation of rewards other than knowing they are helping to advance the mission and vision for the organization. While nonprofits certainly need to raise money to operate, they do so with an underlying purpose of making the world a better place.
So turning back to the private sector, the question is how can we take this sense of purpose found so readily in government and in nonprofit organizations and apply it to the private sector so that companies can experience all of the benefits, good will, and overall employee satisfaction that we see in purpose-driven organizations? In a nutshell, I would posit that leaders need to first take a 360-degree look at every stakeholder (internal and external) of an organization and ask, “What do these people desire?”
For example, employees (and prospective employees) want to work in a company committed to doing more than just making profits. Communities want businesses that support the community by hiring from within, contributing back, and not trashing the neighborhood with pollution. Customers want to feel good about the products they purchase and know that they are produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way, that they are of good quality, that the people producing the products are treated fairly, that supply chains utilized are equally screened in accord with the company values, and that the company demonstrates authentic compassion for people and planet.
In the end, companies that embed purpose in ways similar to that of government and nonprofits will hit the “sweet spot” of purpose, will succeed, and are built for long-term advantage in the 21st century.
Have you wondered what an integrated, strategic, and authentic Corporate Social Responsibility program might entail? What are the hallmarks of an effective CSR plan? How do you get started? What is the return on investment (ROI)?
Needle Consultants, LLC's Chief Instigator Marc Ross will be covering all of this and more at the NoCo Hemp Expo -- the largest gathering of the hemp industry in the world! Held March 30-April 1, 2017 at the Ranch Events Center Complex in Loveland, Colorado, the NoCo Hemp Expo will feature a broad range of expert speakers, panelists and demonstrations where you can learn how hemp is grown, processed, used for food and nutrition, nutraceuticals, building materials, paper, textiles, plastics, composites, nano-materials, bio-fuel, remediation, reclamation and more.
Look for Mr. Ross' talk on Corporate Social Responsibility and Community Engagement on Saturday, April 1, 12-12:30 pm, in the Artists & Activists' Tent. To purchase tickets, GO HERE.
The purpose principle
In Search of Purpose in the Workplace
“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.” -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Since the beginning of time, humans have questioned why we have been put here on this planet. Writers, philosophers, and politicians have all wrestled with this universal issue and most conclude that living a “purposeful” life is what is ultimately satisfying.
The same can be said for the workplace. We spend more time at work than we do sleeping or with our families and friends. We spend much more time at work than we do recreating – doing those little things that give us the greatest satisfaction. If we could only find ways to make our work lives more focused around purpose, wouldn’t we find work more satisfying, enjoyable, and fulfilling? Wouldn’t it feel amazing to walk into an office each day with excited co-workers full of purpose and pride, ready to help your company be a shining example of what business can do to make the world a better place? I know -- outside the mission-driven, nonprofit world, this almost sounds like a pipedream – but is it?
This desire for purpose in work is coming to a head as millennials are becoming the largest generation in the workforce. Having a purposeful work experience that goes beyond earnings is no longer an option; it is a requirement. Recent studies have shown that 79% of Millennials (58% of all employees) would not work for a company that didn’t have strong social or environmental commitments. 93% of employees want to work for a company that cares about them as an individual. Most would actually choose to work for a socially responsible company even if the salary was less. 74% say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact at work. 87% of millennials polled across 29 countries believed business success should be measured by more than financial performance, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey.
How does a company facilitate purpose in the workplace?
A company’s authentic commitment to purpose is often reflected in a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) program. Purpose can be reflected and facilitated in the workplace through three approaches: Work Itself, Work Related, and Work Facilitated.
Work Itself – CSR has been shown to be most effective and beneficial when it is strategically integrated into a company’s Mission, Vision and Values. When the work itself is directly linked to a mission, a company vision, and a set of values, not only is it authentic and resonates with us as humans, but it inspires. It makes us want to get up and go to work, work longer hours, and less prone to call in sick. It compels us to work harder for the greater good. And ultimately, employees are more satisfied and fulfilled with their employer when they are having a positive impact on areas beyond profits.
Work Related – Beyond the actual scope of the job description, there are opportunities for an employer to tap into this thirst for purpose within the broad confines of a robust and strategic CSR program by using company resources for work-related endeavors. One example of a work-related CSR/purpose-based program is skills-based volunteering efforts (either locally or in foreign countries). Another is matching programs where an employer matches donations to charities of an employee’s choice dollar for dollar or “dollars for doers” programs where the company matches an employee’s donated time to a nonprofit with a financial donation as well. Another work-related opportunity companies can provide is paid time off for employees to volunteer for charities – this could range from a single, company-wide day of service to unlimited time off for volunteer efforts.
Work Facilitated – Companies can demonstrate a commitment to purpose by utilizing their business to enhance communities; in other words, facilitating community or global enhancement that will, in turn, provide enhanced reputation in the community and pride amongst current (and future) employees. These programs may involve supporting and sponsoring the arts, donating to community (re)development grants, facilitating on-site job fairs or sponsoring them in the community, hosting on-site charitable collections (toy, food, book drives, etc.) or dedicating space for a community garden.
Regardless of where your company sits in the CSR spectrum, creating and implementing an authentic commitment to purpose not only will enhance reputation and differentiate your company from the competition in the eyes of customers, investors, and employees, but ultimately will create a more powerful, more effective, profitable, and more purposeful narrative.
And who doesn’t want to come to work with a sense of purpose?!
Often I hear smaller businesses and start-ups ask whether they have the capacity to implement a formal Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) program. These companies know it’s the right thing to do AND some even recognize they will enjoy the multiple benefits and measurable Return on Investment by having an integrated program, but they just don’t think they are ready.
The fact is that it’s much easier to focus on the foundation of an effective, authentic and strategic CSR program when a company is in its early stages of development. While smaller companies and start-ups might not have the capacity to engage in all aspects of CSR, such as a corporate philanthropy program, working on a solid foundation of Mission, Vision and Values will enable a company to grow its CSR programs along with profits, employees, and capacity. Business books are filled with examples of companies that started developing their Mission, Vision and Values long before they ever produced a product. Companies like New Belgium Brewing Company, Starbucks, and Salesforce are just three examples of companies that are now held up as shining examples of successful companies with embedded CSR programs – ALL of which began with an analysis of Mission, Vision and Values at the earliest stages of their corporate founding.
So, what does a fully integrated CSR program look like? Well, let’s say you are widget maker and you and your internal stakeholders have determined that your collective Vision is “A world without cancer.” I know – it seems pretty unrelated to widgets, right? But what if your Mission is then to “Create the world’s best widgets while helping to prevent and cure cancer”? OK, so how does that happen? You develop a series of corporate values aligned with your Vision and Mission. For example, your corporate values may include:
The next step then is to look at the “four pillars” of CSR (sustainability, community engagement, employee engagement, and corporate philanthropy) and to align them with your Mission, Vision and Values.
You can start with your supply chain and manufacturing process to ensure that the production of your widgets is done in compliance with your values. You probably also want to make sure that the final widget product will be safe for consumers to use (or children to chew on).
Considering your employees, perhaps you add an on-site gym or provide gym rebates or rebates to Weight Watchers or smoking cessation programs for employees who engage in healthy activities. Maybe you give employees fighting cancer (or helping out a family member battling cancer) time off with a commitment that they will be able to return to their position once in remission. Perhaps you field teams in cancer fundraising events (with the company or CEO matching donations) so that the entire company is engaged. Is there an opportunity for skills-based volunteering where your employees are given paid time off to volunteer their skills at cancer charities or treatment centers?
These are just some basic ideas as to how a company might start to align and integrate their CSR work into the business. In future blog posts we'll go deeper into the four pillars of CSR. But, for it to be authentic and reap the benefits of a strategic and integrated CSR program, it all starts with a clear organizational Mission, Vision and Values.