Start with Why

This past summer at a gathering of friends I asked Rob Simpson, an accomplished CEO in healthcare, to read the latest version of this website. Given how long and close our wives go back together I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that he is thinking about exactly the same things that I am: Mission, purpose and values make everything else so much easier. And fun. And effective. – MA

According to a recent Gallup meta-analysis* only about 40% of employees truly know and understand what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors. Furthermore, the study demonstrated that strategic processes to translate mission and purpose into action steps that would further engage employees and consumers were under-developed.

This is a huge misuse of employee talent and organization focus. Understanding an organization’s purpose helps the Board, leadership and employees answer two critical questions: “Why Am I Here?” and “What Difference Do I Make?”.

A strong mission (“what do we do?”) and purpose (“why are we here?”) promotes brand differentiation, consumer passion, and brand engagement of employees, consumers and communities.

This lack of brand awareness is not a marketing problem. It is a mission-driven leadership problem.

Why is mission such a powerful driver of organizational performance? Gallup suggests the following:

• Mission drives loyalty across generations with millennials in particular seeking it in the workplace,

• Mission fosters customer engagement,

• Mission improves strategic alignment establishing and balancing priorities, goals and aligning   rewards,

• Mission brings clarity, commitment and dedication, and

• Mission can be measured connecting and enabling work behaviors to the company’s ultimate purpose.

If a brand is to become iconic it has to express its unique purpose in the world.

A company’s brand has extraordinary symbolic meaning that originates with its underlying mission and purpose. Jerome Conlon, former Director of Marketing for Nike Insights, points out that “If a brand is to become iconic, to become a world-class energy that customers deeply identify with, then it must evoke transcendent qualities of human soulfulness.” Conlon is saying that if a brand is to become iconic it has to express its unique purpose in the world. Nike’s purpose in the world was to provide products that enabled people to “Just do it” as noted in their famous tag line.

A deep brand purpose starts with speaking to an underlying unmet consumer need that requires it to be addressed and resolved. Engaging employees in work teams that speak to this need requires leaders to engage an individual employee’s sense of purpose and working to connect that to the mission and purpose of the organization.

The power of purpose then becomes not just a sophisticated branding exercise but a process that puts employees first in the evolution of the organization by exploring each individual employee’s sense of meaning and purpose in the context of the vision of the organization to meet its purpose and meaning in the market to its customers.

“It’s easy to state a purpose and state a set of values. It’s much harder to enact them in the organization because it requires you to continually search for consistency across many disciplines and many activities. You can’t just adopt it … It has to be driven, operationally and in depth, by the CEO and the top leadership team. That takes a lot of skill and understanding to do well, which is why so few companies really can pull it off.” Michael Beer, the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School

Increased productivity. Increased employee satisfaction.

Purpose driven companies have increased productivity coupled with increased employee satisfaction and engagement scores. In the Harvard reported study, The Business Case for Purpose, executives at companies that prioritized purpose said that providing employees with a sense of meaning and fulfillment created value for the customer while then making a positive social impact on their community.

“It is more important that the purpose resonates with the employees than with the customers. If it doesn’t happen there, then the customers will [catch on] very quickly,” says Raj Sisodia, co-author of Conscious Capitalism and FW Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College.

*Gallup’s 2012 meta-analysis included 49,928 business units across 192 organizations representing 49 different industries in 34 countries. Gallup Management Journal report, “Feeling Good Matters in the Workplace.

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