Thank-you Bernard Salt for your article “Shaping Up” in this week’s Weekend Australian Magazine providing commentary on the zeitgeist of current generations seeking fulfilment and purpose in their work.
Mr Salt was able to sum up a rising sentiment that has been taking shape for some time.
“Young workers spilling into the workforce in this decade will fairly expect competitive pay and conditions. But I think these next-gen workers will want something more, something that previous generations may not have thought about. They will want to work in businesses, in organisations, that make a difference, that offer meaning, that have a clear purpose”.
The purpose of purpose has been popping up a lot for me lately.
A week ago I had the pleasure of talking with an entrepreneur based in Hong Kong, who left his corporate career to find greater meaning. After a 20-year career pushing revenue lines up a curve for no other reason than lining corporate coffers, he found he was left feeling empty and bereft of meaning or true fulfilment in his work. He simply couldn’t go on, even with the financial security that job offered him and his family. He was faced with a difficult decision – risk his finances, or risk his heart. Bravely, he chose the former, not the latter. He is now backing himself to combine his love of tech with his wealth of experience in the gifting industry to start a true profit for purpose business.
His mission led him to a conversation with me about culture. When business leaders start thinking about their purpose ‘out there’ for customers, they inevitably turn to how we live the purpose ‘in here’. Clearly – there needs to be alignment between what we say we’re about, and how we actually go about pursuing that goal.
Soon after that call, I stepped into a workshop with a NSW based council who are preparing to launch a new purpose statement to rally their large and diverse workforce. I started out by asking them why they needed a new purpose statement. After all, what difference will a line 7 +/- 2 words really make? Their reasons were clear.
– To find common ground
– To help our people understand how what they do matters
– To give every worker a clear sense of meaning
– To spark a sense of pride
– To remind us what working in council is really about.
Bernard Salt’s weekend article is making a pertinent observation that there is a strong emerging trend towards businesses who put a clear and compelling purpose at the heart of their strategy.
As a society, we’ve graduated from thinking that business is just about making money because we’re finally learning that the pursuit of profit at all costs ends up costing more. Putting the needs of shareholders ahead of other stakeholders in the system – employees, suppliers, customers, communities, or the environment – only ever yields short term gains for shareholders, with long term pain for everyone else. The next generation are the recipients of that pain. Our children are lining up to deal with the consequences of short-termism.
My kids are only 11 and 13. They have more ESG built into them now than most corporate leaders in power today. When my eldest practiced his English speech on saving the world’s oceans, I was simultaneously shamed by my lack of awareness, and inspired by his. At 13 – he already knows how overfishing is destroying our oceans, how corporations are to blame, and why we should all learn how to hunt, grow and source our own food locally. (He also managed to convince us to why we need to take him fishing more often!).
A “purpose driven” business is not a compromise. It’s a business that understands how it contributes to wealth and value creation across the whole stakeholder chain. Ultimately, these businesses perform better because they elevate the eco-system of people and businesses working around them, creating sustainable growth.
It’s not hard to dig deep and discover a sense of purpose at work. Most organisations now have a clear purpose statement in bold lettering on their websites. But how effectively are they using and integrating these into strategy, culture and everyday practices?
Here are a couple of tips to working true to purpose:
Feeling good about what we do is only possible when we feel connected to a meaningful purpose – one beyond just making money. Your company purpose could be about making customers lives a little less painful, a little easier, a little more fun. It could be about sparking change, leaning in, looking better, or living better. It could be about making things safer, faster, cleaner, greener. It could be about justice, equity, responsibility, or accountability. Your organisation exists to meet a need – one that is important and worthy. Never lose sight of the power of purpose to connect, align and inspire people at work.