Post the ‘inquires we had to have’ in the banking, insurance and super industries, I’ve been reflecting on what I see as the heart of the problem – when organisations choose growth at any cost.
Following the regulator’s advice, these businesses have a laundry list of reforms coupled with an instruction to double down on their governance and culture. But to what end? The mirror must be held up to ask the big questions; What is our purpose, why does our organisation exist?
Defining organisational purpose, is not about the business, the brand or products and services. It’s about the people you serve and making a difference in their lives — the customers that use your products and services, your employees, shareholders and the wider community.
“The brands that we choose now need stand for something;
using their resources for good, as well as making profits.”
Purpose has never been more significant. As individuals, we are concerned about our families and friends, our communities, our country, and the planet. We not only want to purchase products and services that provide us with rewarding experiences, but also reflect the kind of world we want to live in. The brands that we choose now, need to stand for something; using their resources for good, as well as making profits.
Employees too, don’t want just jobs. They want to feel passionate and proud about the contribution they’re making; to belong to something much bigger, knowing their work is making a difference. Having a sense of purpose gives their work meaning.
As leaders, we’re looking to connect employees and customers with the business in new and different ways. Leaders too, have a deep yearning for employee empowerment, delivering greater value for the customers they serve, as well as prosperity for the organisation.
Having a sense of purpose reflects our collective values, helps our businesses to be relevant in the face of ongoing change and importantly, helps organisations to be more human.
Purpose needs action
Therein lies the challenge — the ‘Purpose Gap’. On one side, is the belief that in order to effect change, purpose has to inform how leaders and employees think, act and communicate, and on the other side, is the organisation’s capacity to do so.
There’s no quicker way to disenfranchise employees than rolling out another empty statement. I recently visited a company and commented to the receptionist that I really liked their mission and values displayed on the walls. I asked her, “what does this mean to you?” She looked up, looked back at me, and shrugged her shoulders. A telling sign that their business was built on all words, and no action.
“Purpose needs action and actions need to be authentic.”
Purpose needs action, and actions need to be authentic. Authenticity is the undertaking to live the purpose – every day. It needs to be built into the organisational culture, customer and employee experiences, the foundation of the business strategy; be the arbiter of decision making and inform how the business makes an impact on the wider world.
Without purpose, without a sharp focus on the greater good to make a difference in people’s lives, organisations will not escape the inevitability of merely delivering a ‘brighter shade of lipstick on the pig’ when endeavoring to future proof their business.
First published on Alex Allwood’s blog