Article Purpose: Why You Are > What You Are We often think of our “work self” and our “life self” as two separate personas. At the root, however, there is only one self: you. Who you are at work and who you are in life—it’s the same human. In fact, work is now a way of life. It’s a symbol of who we are as a person, what we stand for, what we believe in. And the reason for this is Purpose. In our work, we have an opportunity to infuse Purpose into everything we do and change the world for the better. Our life’s work can be a vehicle for delivering our values as leaders. There are certainly some leaders delivering their values, but on the whole, we have a massive leadership deficit in our world. So, we can’t wait for someone else to take charge, for some other leader to show the way. We have to make ourselves those leaders and ask: Who do you want to be in the world? What do you want to represent? What do you stand for? What truly matters to you? What won’t you compromise on—even if your revenues are fat or acquisition is inevitable? What do you really want to do with your life’s work? When we realize our Purpose, we realize the reason we strive. We gain a deep sense of meaning knowing what truly animates our goals and actions. What does Purpose look like? In essence, Purpose answers the question, “Why do I exist?” It’s a deep-rooted, personal answer to this question that’s wholly unique to you. For founders, it’s the reason you started your own business. It’s the impact that you hope you and your company can have on the world. For companies and teams, Purpose is a shared cultural feeling, at the most basic level, of why the organization exists. But when you’re figuring out your or your company’s Purpose, be sure you aren’t just borrowing someone else’s or simply grabbing social purpose for marketing reasons. As Jeff Melnyk contends, “having both a ‘purpose’ AND a ‘social purpose’ makes little sense”—a.k.a. one derived from having a CSR strategy to benefit the bottom line while appearing purpose-driven— where it’s not true to what your business actually does for people. Authentic Purpose is aspirational—it keeps everyone hopeful. And it’s inspirational, too, in that it’s the energy that makes us jump out of bed. It’s motivational, helping get us through the tiring, unsexy aspects of our business. Finally, it’s intangible, because it can never be fully realized. It’s why we do the work. It’s why all of us—our customers, our beneficiaries, our partners, our employees, and ourselves—why we’re here. What might a team without Purpose look like? Without Purpose, we get back to that “a job is a job” mentality, with team members feeling disconnected from the organization. They don’t see any impact from their daily efforts on larger organizational goals, so there’s a lack of ownership of the outcomes. Essentially, they feel their work doesn’t ultimately matter. And only leads to increasing disengagement, overall job dissatisfaction, and high employee turnover. Why is having Purpose important? The biggest tangible result of having Purpose is that it builds a real and innovative culture, which helps a company and the people who make it up understand who they are and what they’re after. And as the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. With a more vibrant company culture, you also see a more creative strategy. At the base level, Purpose builds employee engagement by creating a deep, emotional sense of alignment. A 2018 Gallup study showed that the organizations that best engage their employees also have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents, and more specifically, 21% higher profitability and 4x earnings-per-share growth compared to their competitors. Beyond that, companies with Purpose both attract and retain those that live the same Purpose. In other words, an organization with Purpose stands out, and desirable employees (i.e. those who share the same values and fit well with the culture) will seek it out—and stay. According to BetterUp’s 2018 Meaning and Purpose at Work report, employees with meaningful work are 69% less likely to plan on quitting their jobs within the next 6 months and also have average job tenures of 7.4 months longer than those who don’t perceive meaning in their work. How to Find Purpose So, you know it’s important to have purpose. Now, how do you get there? By diving in. Discovering a Purpose means getting emotional. On a personal level, consider Steve Pavlina’s article, “How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes.” Ignoring the “quick fix” title, Pavlina’s article describes how it’s all about connecting within. Discover what emotionally resonates with you by paying attention to the signals that your body gives you when you’re getting close to realizing your Purpose. It might be tears, getting “stuffy,” feeling butterflies in your stomach, having the hair on the back of your neck stand up, or even tingling. On a team level, have everyone participate in a discussion, with the goal of answering the question: “Why does our company’s existence actually matter?” To ensure diversity of opinion, make sure you gather a combination of key individuals from all over the organization. Let each individual take the time to write their own answer. Let them know, as Pavlina shares, that it will take time, vulnerability, openness, honesty, and courage to share the real answers. Those real answers are important, because a powerful Purpose—one that is truly authentic, and not just “nice-sounding”—is personally inspiring to each member of a team. It’s the one that both helps them think expansively about long-term possibilities and, equally importantly, gives them clarity on which activities NOT to pursue. After the individual answers are completed, share each statement with the group. From there, the group’s task is to find a common statement that fits certain criteria. Read on. What makes a good Purpose statement? Purpose statements can run the gamut in their focus, but really good statements do all have some key shared characteristics, as outlined by business advisor, researcher, and author Jim Collins: It’s personally inspiring—it makes you feel proud to work here. It helps you think expansively about what we could do (but aren’t doing) and what we won’t do. It’s truly authentic to those inside the company—it’s not just a “pretty” statement. It’s something that will be as valid in 100 years as it is today. It’s met with enthusiasm across the organization. For example, SpaceX is a company with clear Purpose, and it’s proven in their statement. It isn’t about building cheaper rockets (which would be just a Strategy), and it isn’t about going to Mars (Vision). The reason SpaceX exists is “to ensure the future of the human race.” It gives deep meaning and clarity into why the company is in business. It is also why the company is going to Mars, which is crucially different than a bare Vision of going to Mars itself. Connecting to the big picture It’s said that when he was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren asked three different bricklayers at work, “What are you doing?” The first bricklayer said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second said, “I’m building a wall.” And the third said, “I’m building a great cathedral.” The third bricklayer was thinking bigger—his perspective was linked to the big picture. Essentially, he was connected to the Purpose. Knowing the reason why we’re here helps us make better decisions and build alignment and commitment at all levels in our organizations. Even more, it provides the passion to push through tiring detail work. As Randy Komisar wrote in The Monk and The Riddle: Don’t confuse drive and passion. Drive pushes you forward. It’s a duty, an obligation. Passion pulls you. It’s the sense of connection you feel when the work you do expresses who you are. Only passion will get you through the tough times. Most of all, Purpose helps create a community where we agree about what really matters. A clear Purpose declares—not only to employees, but also to investors and customers—that “We are here, this is what we’re doing, and this is why.” It invites everyone to be a part of the journey with you.