Study after study indicates that what Millennials care about at work, is working with a purpose. But here's something people aren't talking about: Millennials are not the only people that care about purpose. Millennials may have inherited their purpose orientation from their Boomer parents, who perhaps never left behind the idealism of their 60's youth. Even Gen-Xers, that pragmatic and enigmatic generation that traded grunge for the 9 to 5 grind, seeks purpose as they enter midlife.
It's clear that we're entering an age of purpose, one where "why you do what you do" may be even more important than "what" you do, or "how." To be relevant, organizations must first clearly define their purpose, and then seek out ways to live and communicate that purpose through the work that they do.
I recently talked to several business leaders who agreed that purpose is more important than ever, and that successful purpose transformation relies on people in three key ways.
Your Purpose Is About People
When going through a purpose transformation, it's important to place purpose in the context of people: what your organization does for people is its purpose. Says Holly Hughes, Chief Marketing Officer of BAI, a non-profit organization that serves the banking industry and its leaders, "There's an a-ha moment that comes when you change how you think about what you do. When you think in terms of people, you realize the importance and value of the work, and it personalizes it."
Hughes should know. Perhaps no industry has been more in need of purpose transformation in recent years than banking. Following the financial market's implosion that set off the deepest recession in recent memory, the industry's reputation was in tatters. Hard work, long hours and lack of appreciation have been cited as reasons why many promising young leaders leave the industry by age 30, and a recent survey by TINYpulse indicated that fewer than a quarter of financial industry workers are happy in their work.
Yet, the work of the financial industry is indeed important to individuals and the economy as a whole. "One of the challenges we faced was the negative stereotypes of the industry," says Hughes. "Banks aren't just here to make money. When banks do well they do really important things for people: small business owners, future homeowners and the community. When we started talking about purpose in those terms and how BAI helps drive positive change in these areas, our people started to realize the greater meaning of their work."
Purpose Is Passion Lived By People
One pitfall of purpose transformation is when purpose or values only reflect the perspective of leadership teams and don't resonate with employees. When employees don't understand the purpose or share the values of the organization, they are unlikely to internalize them or conduct their work in a way that reflects them.
"We went through a purpose transformation and one of the big takeaways for us was that it's about passion and people. Passion is at the core of your business - it defines your work, your culture and your daily interactions - but you can't have a true transformation without people," says Donnell Wright, VP of Strategy and Business Development of Social Data Intelligence.
"As you go through purpose transformation, deeply involve everyone - literally, everyone - in your organization to develop a shared purpose around your collective passion," says Wright. "It's the difference between a personality driven culture and a striving culture of shared success. Purpose can't just be a reflection of what matters to leaders. It has to be something that permeates the whole culture, so that 'culture fit' isn't just a matter who gets along, but who's working toward shared objectives."
Lisa Latronico, VP of People and Culture at Skender Construction, recently named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois, agrees. She says, "Stakeholders in a purpose transformation aren't just the executive team, in charge. They can't just be sitting in an ivory tower, making these things up. You have to include the team and understand what they are doing day to day."
Your People Communicate Your Purpose
How do organizations communicate in a purpose transformation? According to Skender's Latronico, " Employees are the ones who need to be able to pass along core values and purpose not just internally, but also externally." Purpose transformation is about aligning the stories we tell about purpose within the organization, with those we are telling outside of it.
In many organizations, this means that marketing and PR departments are coming together with the HR functions to align internal and external messaging around purpose. In some organizations, the entire communications function no longer makes much of a distinction between internal and external audiences.
Katy De Leon, VP of Marketing at Narrative Science, a company that merges data analytics with advanced natural language generation to transform raw data into narratives that matter, says that the marketing role in purposeful organizations is now about, "telling our story to as many people as possible, external and internal. We have to align those messages not just around value propositions, but around why what we do matters to people - to both our customers and our employees. We have created a transformative way of working, so how do companies use it to drive their business forward? How does this technology help people understand data in a way never done before?"
Purpose also transforms the relationships your people develop with the customer. "Your people are your connectors. They're the ones brokering relationships with the customer," says Aaron Clifford, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Binary Fountain, the leading provider of patient feedback management solutions designed specifically for healthcare. After we began focusing on our purpose of helping healthcare organizations create a better patient experience, we saw an engagement with customers that we never saw before from when they are prospects to the way customers are on boarded. There's a feeling that you're all on the same team and part of something new and meaningful. It makes them feel more like family and less like a vendor/client relationship."
Business leaders who've experienced a successful purpose transformation agree that people make the difference between a purpose transformation that is truly transformational, and one that is destined to be forgotten and ignored. The key is aligning our purpose, or "why we do what we do," with who we do it for. It's finding synergy between profit and service. Purpose that's focused on people transforms what we do, how we do it and the stories we tell about it.