Purpose is a key ingredient for a strong, sustainable, scalable organizational culture. It’s an unseen-yet-ever-present element that drives an organization. It can be a strategic starting point, a product differentiator, and an organic attractor of users and customers.
People in touch with their personal purpose have a strong sense of who they are, and are in touch with their passions and values. Their goals and career choices are informed by that purpose and they are looking for opportunities to live that purpose on a larger playing field, to fulfill it in a bigger way than they could manifest on their own.
An ideal organization is one where the personal purposes of the employees and leadership cascade into the purpose of the organization. What we’re doing here serves my personal purpose as well as putting bread on the table and paying the mortgage. In this situation, people are self-driven and motivated. The commitment and energy level are manifold higher than say, in a place where people are on the edge of saying “take this job and shove it,” where work is a necessary evil in order to survive.
A company’s purpose cannot simply be a pretty set of words. As the adage goes, actions speak louder than words.
In the book Corporate Culture and Performance, John Kotter and James Heskett (1992) show that over a decade-long period, purposeful, value-driven companies outperform their counterparts in stock price by a factor of 12. “In the absence of purpose, a company’s leadership is likely to have greater difficulty in motivating employees and putting the company on the course to success. Customers are likely to have difficulty connecting with the company. With purpose, a company can create positive value that is far greater than the sum of its parts” (Hakimi 2015: 86).
Bach Sculpting – Your Journey Towards Purpose: Think outside the box and inside the Bach
Where is the gateway to the path that flows to our purpose, where we do only what supports that purpose, and the satisfying great work is done through the natural flow of our being?
In B. Kliban’s cartoon, “Bach Sculpting,” we see Johan Sebastian Bach awk-wardly crafting his lumpy-dumpy statuette while his piano sits unused in the background. I’ve felt my own version of Bach Sculpting many times on the job as I’m working some task where I know there are many people that have the skills to do this better, more efficiently and expertly than I will ever be able to do this, and housing the feeling that the opportunity cost – what I might be able to accomplish with this time, attention, and energy – like Johan clumsily adding blobs of clay when he might be intricately weaving themes to the 5th Brandenburg Concerto.
This brings to mind a Richard Brautigan poem:
Finding Is Losing Something Else
Finding is losing something else.
I think about, perhaps even mourn,
what I lost to find this. (Brautigan 1976: 8)
Entrepreneurs often feel the Bach Sculpting feeling – though they are metaphorically a composer, they also have to sculpt, dance, paint, write novels and poetry, act, direct, and market, sell, and do the accounting. It’s the old E-Myth principle where businesses are started by technicians or specialists who haven’t acquired the basic business skills or knowledge, or still assume that business acumen is a minor part of the new business equation. If you’re a yoga instructor, do you really want to start a studio? As an engineer, is starting a company to develop, produce, and market your tech invention the way to go to serve your purpose?
For me, the process has been a series of refinements, involving an ongoing inquiry into “what is my purpose?”, with many iterations of understanding what that might be. It began with an autopilot concept of something like: pick something you’re good at, go to college to learn more about it and get the credentials so that someone will hire you to do that. Pretty rudimentary. And once I got that job I realized that I could do it well, and some of it was even fun and satisfying sometimes, but I quickly got the sense that I was directionless and that I wanted some sort of direction. For me that involved taking a philosophical and spiritual hiatus in my mid-twenties to try to get a handle on this.
First I accepted the assumption that each person has a purpose – not as an a priori fact, but as a conjecture and belief that seemed more useful than believing there is no purpose. When our work is aligned with our talents and our purpose, we experience the fulfillment of doing our “Great Work.”