Organisational purpose | Main Region NZ | EW

Why is organisational purpose important and how can you define it?

People nowadays are looking for a deeper meaning in the work that they do. So, defining an organisational purpose is key to attracting the best candidates. 

The key insights on organisational purpose

  • Beyond a mission statement, your organisation also needs a purpose which answers the question ‘why are you in business?’ For most organisations, the purpose already exists but might not be articulated well. It can help to look at other companies’ purpose statements to figure out what’s yours. However, it’s vital that the purpose is authentic to your business.
  • When employees feel that their purpose is aligned with their organisations, employee engagement is stronger, loyalty is heightened and they are more willing to recommend the company to others [1].
  • Once you have a defined business purpose, it’s key that you hire purpose-driven people into your team. These people will want to shout about your message and feel proud to work for your organisation. Make sure to ask value-based questions in candidate interviews to understand whether their values match your business.

Understanding organisational purpose: Background

Regardless of age, the reasons behind our career choices are becoming more deeply rooted in social purpose.
Whether it be helping to save the planet or working to improve communities, we are all motivated by something much bigger than ourselves. From playing our part in enabling people to reach their full potential to improving the lives of customers, we want to improve the world around us with our work. Ultimately, what we’re all looking for is a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to contribute.

Why we need purpose in work

We no longer go to work simply to pay the bills, but we go to work to feel that we are making a difference. 70 per cent of employees say that their sense of purpose is defined by their work, so you have an important role to play in helping employees find it, but also communicating a purpose that resonates with employees [1]

But what has spurred this change? We live in an age of rapid technological change, societal and environmental movements, increased life expectancy and changing expectations. There is a lot in the world that is great, but there is also a lot that we need to fix. Increasingly, more of us feel compelled to help fix the parts that we feel are broken.

This approach to fixing things naturally makes us think differently about the lives we lead and the work we do. Our innate need to contribute opens our eyes, making us feel more personally accountable. It makes us question whether where we’re spending the majority of our time and how we’re spending that time is really allowing us to make the impact we need to make.

We all appreciate that we can’t end child-poverty or solve the climate crisis single-handedly. We understand that to do anything meaningful on this planet, we need to work together to tackle a common cause. Join a purpose-driven organisation that is aligned to your value system and find solace in the fact that as part of a team, we are able to have a positive impact on the world.

Organisational purpose – a key topic for years to come

The fact of the matter is that if leaders like yourself are to grow your organisation, you must be able to define, communicate and enact why your businesses exists. If you fail to define your business purpose:
  • you won’t be able to make a positive impact on society.
  • you’ll be unable to give people a good enough reason to want to work for you.
  • you will fail to engage your customers, clients, shareholders and current employees.
So, the stakes are high. Defining a purpose for your company’s existence must become a hot topic around boardroom tables regardless of how big those boardrooms are or where they are in the world.
According to research, organisations that have successfully defined, and importantly, act with a sense of purpose, outperform the financial markets by 42 per cent [2]. Not only that, but employees who work for purpose-driven organisations are 14 times more likely to look forward to going to work [3]

Organisational purpose is the ‘why’, not ‘what’

What exactly do we mean by organisational purpose? Firstly, it’s important to understand that your organisation’s mission statement is different from its purpose. Your mission is what you’re trying to accomplish, your purpose is your why.

Fast Company’s article on purpose-driven businesses provides a great illustrative example. “Toms founder Blake Mycoskie says the company’s mission is to sell shoes, but his purpose is to provide free footwear to people in need.”

Defining purpose 

For many businesses, the process of defining their purpose is often more of an overt rearticulation of something that has always been there. It just needed to be brought to the surface.

So, if you are at the start of redefining your own organisation’s purpose, below are some business purpose statement examples from leading brands for inspiration.
  • “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google
  • “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Tesla
  • “To improve life here, to extend life to there, to find life beyond.” NASA
  • “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Nike
A key point to bear in mind is that your organisation’s purpose needs to feel authentic in the eyes of all your stakeholders. They need to feel connected to it and inspired by it and it needs to be more than black and white words on a screen. So take the time to put some real effort into defining your purpose, no matter how long that process takes.

Your business purpose must be embedded to foster belief

You shouldn’t just move to the next priority once you’ve agreed on a central business purpose, it should always be high on your agenda. The hard work has only just begun. The real work starts when you begin to embed your purpose into the DNA of your business. 

Once your leaders are on board, it’s their job (and yours) to continuously and consistently reinforce your organisational purpose internally from this moment forward. It must form a key part of everything - your training programs, your internal communications, your products, your services, your weekly conference calls, the benefits you offer and the list keeps going. If you can commit to reinforcing your purpose in some way, every day, you will see the benefit. 

Only when your organisation’s purpose is genuinely embedded into your business, will it be believable in the eyes of the outside world. That process takes hard work, commitment and persistence.

Attracting people driven by purpose to your purpose-driven organisation

How should you go about using your purpose to attract the right, purpose-driven people to your business? This is often where many organisations come unstuck. So, here are some pointers:

Let unique voices take centre stage

Patagonia is often held up as a leading light when it comes to creating employee experiences that encapsulate their organisational purpose. Their purpose statement is: “We’re in business to save our home planet”. As such, they offer a number of benefits which allow their employees access to charity and volunteer opportunities to support their environmental work.

In September 2019, Patagonia closed their offices and stores around the world, to allow their employees to join youth activists protesting for action against climate change. Companies such as Lush and Ben & Jerry’s also took the same stance.

Actions like this really allow your brand to live up to its purpose and benefit society in the way you intend. These actions also allow your employees to feel more passionately connected to your organisation’s ‘why’. When they feel passionate about the purpose, they are more likely to share their experiences across their social feeds and with their friends and family. This organic sharing will attract like-minded, purpose-driven people to join your business, and you will soon be seen as an employer of choice.

So, remember that the voices of your purpose-driven employees are a powerful tool. They will help to communicate your purpose in a subtle, real way, and in a way that’s personal to them. That’s what will really spark the attention of potential new hires.

Identify values and behaviours that will help you live your purpose

It’s important that you hire individuals whose values are aligned to why you exist as a business. So, take some time to understand which values will enable your purpose to become a reality in the long-term.

Identifying a few critical behaviours will help you recognise the values you’re looking for. For example, at Hays, we centre our purpose around forming lifelong partnerships and helping professionals and organisations thrive. So, one of the values we look for in those we hire is a passion for people. In turn, one of the behaviours we look for is the ability to build strong, long-term relationships with stakeholders.

When assessing these values and behaviours in an interview, ask some value-based interview questions such as:
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Tell us about a time you made a positive impact at work.
  • What motivates you to succeed?
For example, at Hays, another of our values is being experts in our field. So, during an interview, we will often ask questions about how the candidate immerses themselves in an industry and stays on top of trends.

Final thoughts: understanding what is and isn’t a business purpose

Purpose is about responsibility and accountability, benefiting society, the new way of doing business and delivering value for all your stakeholders

Purpose isn’t optional, fluffy, just about saving the planet or a strapline.

A sense of purpose is what both your current and potential employees want to feel when they come into work every day. So, now’s the time to ask yourself, “Why does my business exist?”

Organisational purpose: Your next steps 


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