Elevating purpose to a global level

This short article is for all organisations, large or small in any sector, even down to the growing number of self-employed people representing an increasing proportion of the modern work force.

Two vital considerations about the nature of purpose

In “Designing the Purposeful Organization – how to inspire business performance beyond boundaries“, I stress (at least) two vital considerations about the nature of purpose relevant to the topic of this article.

1. Purpose is complex and alive – stakeholder perspectives matter

An organisation’s purpose will be seen differently by customers, staff, suppliers and the plethora of influential opinion formers, all of whom hold success or failure of the organisation to some greater or lesser extent in their hands.

Research abounds to support the fact that all stakeholders are quickly becoming more discerning. Employees, especially the younger ones, are less likely to be satisfied by work that simply pays the bills.  They demand meaning and social relevance in their employment.

The latest Bersin by Deloitte research on Millennials (now about half of the workforce) shows that they state their organisation’s “purpose” is the reason they choose an employer. Similar data shows that baby boomers feel the same way. Only 27 percent of Millennials believe a company’s purpose is to make money (down from 35 percent in 2013), while the remainder believe the focus should be on stakeholders and impact.

Consumers also want to know where the products and services they procure come from and the potential for progression or destruction that the supply chain has on society and the environment.  And shareholders are more demanding than ever, with an increasing demand for so-called ethical investments.

So, how does this translate into leadership?  It requires far more maturity of mindset than was ever the case, including openness to increased collaboration both internally and with providers, and customers up and down the value chain.  Leaders need to be able to listen generatively to the views of all stakeholders, even when such views appear different to their own.  The wise leader will amalgamate seemingly contra perspectives in order to sense what Otto Scharmer describes as “the emerging future”.  They will also be able to communicate these insights in compelling ways to a variety of audiences without loss of integrity as a leader.   This highly evolved leadership is priceless.  And the good news is that, for progressive leaders, it can be learned in a deliberate and focused manner.

2. Purpose must be relevant in a global context

The second consideration is that purpose is fractal.  In simple terms, the purpose of any individual in an organisation must be relevant to that of the team which must be relevant to that of the department and ultimately to that of the organisation.  We call this Leader Alignment.

Taking this principle a step further, in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, organisations cannot afford to operate in isolation from their global context.  They absolutely must take notice of how the world and its communities, technologies, challenges and opportunities are evolving around them.  They must, as proposed by Frederic Laloux, allow their purpose to live, breath and evolve along with its timeline.  In fractal terms, just as teams need to stay relevant to the organisation, the organisation must stay relevant to the world.  Yet the ability and comfort in facilitating this evolution, whilst all around is in disruption, should be well within the capacity of a progressive, highly developed and psychologically mature leader.

Describing the world of work as uncertain and complex, might cause some leaders to use this as justification for inaction or wrong action.  But the mature leader will look for certainty in uncertainty, simplicity amongst complexity, hope amidst despair and robust trends amongst volatility.  We live in exciting and wonderful times.  Here are just a few things we can say about our age with reasonable certainty about the future:

  • People are living longer
  • Violence is actually declining
  • Wealth is increasing
  • Poverty is decreasing
  • Global communications are becoming faster and more multi-media
  • Our cities have plans to become cleaner
  • The economies of the so-called developing world are growing quicker than those of the developed world and will present an increasing share of market opportunity
  • Education of young people is increasing, especially amongst girls and their view will progressively influence the prevailing world view
  • Climate change is a widely accepted scientific fact, as is the effect of human activities on the rate of change and need for mitigation
  • Electric, driverless cars and mass-transit innovation will transform our cities and transport systems
  • Robotics and artificial intelligence will displace an increasing number of jobs currently held by people
  • More emphasis will be placed on ecosystems as critical to the survival of life on our planet
  • When technology reaches a marketplace tipping point, it often takes off quicker than our wildest expectations – take computers or mobile phones as prime examples

These are just a few widely accepted trends.  You will have your own list, relevant to your own organisation.  What more could your business do?  Why not make the list now and perhaps share it with Primeast on Twitter or LinkedIn?

The big question is whether your leaders, in the broadest sense, are equipped with the maturity of mindset required for them to make sure your organisation becomes increasingly purposeful and relevant in the VUCA world?