How to build a truly purpose-driven company culture

CEO

My favourite word has always been ‘why.’ Understand the ‘why’ before asking further questions.

Why build a purpose-driven company culture?

A purpose-driven company culture is clear about its direction and actively makes sure everyone in the company is working in the same direction. Every individual has a heartfelt sense of ownership for the purpose. A purpose-driven culture operates even more effectively when the overall company’s purpose fits alongside the individual’s personal purpose. Truly embodying the company’s purpose makes day-to-day decision making easier, more effective and less energy and time consuming.

Does your company have a purpose? Do you live and breathe that purpose?

Numerous studies now highlight how (truly) purpose-led businesses outperform markets.

  • Chasing profits provides even less satisfaction to employees than it does to its leaders. Many employees want to make a difference in the world, and a business with a meaningful purpose makes that possible. Millennial and Gen Z employees are far more discerning about who they work for than previous generations, posing a long-term existential threat to profit-centred businesses.
  • While being creative can be advantageous, when combined with a lack of a clear and well-defined purpose, it can lead to chaos.

How do you create a purpose-driven company culture?

The CEO of the company first needs to be clear on their own personal purpose before they develop the company’s purpose. The culture, purpose and vision of a company is directly transmitted from the CEO. Therefore, if the CEO is not clear on their own purpose, they can’t they be clear on the purpose of their company. The company’s purpose should mirror the CEO’s personal purpose.

How do you discover your personal purpose and that of your company?

Have you ever heard a song, read a sentence, heard a child laugh or looked at a sunrise and felt a shiver down your spine and felt yourself connect more deeply to yourself and the world in that moment? These are the experiences that remind us of what’s real and important. Purpose is to recognise a feeling or sense that there is something greater than yourself.

According to most dictionaries, purpose means: ‘The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.’ Many companies and individuals use the words mission or vision for what I would call purpose, but in my view the key is having an overriding purpose/mission/vision that drives everything you do.

The Japanese have a word for life purpose – ikigai, which literally means ‘a reason for being.’ I have also heard it described as ‘the reason I get up in the morning.’ It’s really simple – if you find yourself in the sweet spot where the four circles on the ikigai chart intersect, then you’re more likely to find yourself springing out of bed in the morning, full of joy!

A lot of clients come to me because their lives lack meaning or direction. They say that they feel empty inside and are searching for something on the outside. They feel unhappy and lost, and my job is to help them find or rediscover their life purpose. I see purpose as much more than a professional path: It’s an overriding statement that speaks to and impacts all parts of your life, including how you show up at work, how you are with your family, your friends, yourself and even complete strangers. Purpose is your “why.” It sums up what’s behind who you are and what you do. It’s the reason you get up in the morning and what keeps you going when you feel like giving up. There is a subtle difference between mission, purpose and vision: Purpose keeps you focused on why you exist; it’s the why behind the action. Vision is the ability to plan the future with imagination and aligns you with your purpose. Mission is how you will accomplish it, the action you need to take.

Having a clear purpose helps you cut through the chaos and decide where to focus your energy. It can also strengthen your resolve and support you in achieving your dreams. We are all born with a purpose and some of us have the good fortune to stay connected to it from an early age. Unfortunately, most of us forget or become disconnected from it because of other people’s expectations. It can take many years to start listening to that small inner voice inviting us to rediscover and reconnect to our calling.

I had the good fortune to meet Bernardine Evaristo on the night she won the Booker Prize. I had read and loved her book Girl, Woman, Other. She was open, humble and as excited as a schoolgirl. It took Bernardine 60 years to finally be recognised on the world stage for her body of work. Her latest book, Manifesto, is about never giving up. She says that there’s a manifesto in each of us – a knitted patchwork of our life experiences, the generations that came before us, the struggles we’ve experienced and the hope for a better future for all. I see this manifesto as another way of describing purpose. I also believe that the less privileged in society have the greatest need for a purpose or manifesto. The more privileged you are, the less you need to fight to understand your drive and direction because so much is already available to you. Ironically, however, having it all can lead to an empty feeling inside. I continue to be moved by Bernardine and others who have used their experiences to fuel their desire for change. Do you dare to rethink and change?

You can also apply the concept of flow to the development of your personal purpose. Being ‘in flow’ means you’re engaging in an activity that you love, and you become so absorbed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time. You become one with that activity and everything around you. The concept has existed for hundreds of years, but it was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who popularised it. He observed musicians in an orchestra and asked the question: ‘Why are they happy?’ He found that they were doing what they loved, with a clear purpose, and concluded that happiness = purpose + flow. He talks about the juxtaposition between challenge and skill and how, if you find a balance between the two, you can get into your flow channel. However, if you are over-challenged and don’t have the required skill, you may feel anxious. And if you engage in an activity that involves less skill, you may become bored. He also talks about an activity that you love growing from being pleasurable to a passion and leading to your higher purpose. If we’re encouraged to experience and live our purpose, we grow into the best of ourselves. However, all too often, as children we’re pushed in other directions and burdened with expectations that don’t belong to us.

One question I’m often asked is whether purpose relates to your work or your whole life. A number of the leaders make a distinction between business and personal purpose. My belief is that this separation is artificial. When I’m on the ski hill or walking in the woods pondering life – is that work or not? As I sit here writing, I’m working, but I’m also having fun and feeling energised. I feel my purpose relates to my whole life and that feels right. I encourage you to trust the process of finding your purpose and see what emerges over time.

Once you have reflected on your purpose and how you might achieve a state of flow, it’s vital to develop your psychological and emotional self-awareness. This is about how you deal with and process your emotions, how you respond to others and how you behave. In fact, awareness is the first step towards changing how you react and respond to life. With awareness comes choice – the choice to change how you approach your life. Without awareness, you can’t make that choice.

Rosemary Napper, author of Tactics and director of TAWorks, told me: ‘It’s only from our adult that we’re able to lead. We need to inhabit our adult to learn, stay present, become self-aware and discover who we are as a leader. It’s here that our passion can be awakened, and we find our individual style of leading. To lead, you need to know your unique purpose, which can only be discovered from the adult ego state.’

To be a truly authentic leader, you need to be clear on your purpose – why you’re here, why you get up in the morning and what the whole point of your life is. And then, live from that place.


Written by Eudora Pascall.
Have you read?
4 ways to boost a culture of accountability – even with hybrid teams by Dr. Paige Williams.
The World is What We Make of It by Leo Bottary.
How to Build effective and healthy relationships with colleagues by Margie Ireland.
If the great resignation is the problem, leadership is the answer by Gerard Penna.

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