Managing with the Power of Purpose

Achieve more with employees who understand the organization’s reason for being.

By Haley Rushing Feb 1, 2010
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0210cover.jpgA manager must play many roles to engage employees—resource allocator, opportunity creator, talent manager and goal setter among them. But one role often gets overlooked: torchbearer of purpose.

When people get out of bed and go to work in the morning, they want to use their talents in the service of goals they believe in. When team members at Whole Foods Market go to work, they’re inspired to change the way Americans eat. When Patagonia employees go into the office, they’re on a crusade to save the planet through sustainable design. Those who work at the quirky apparel company Life is good Inc. spread the power of optimism. These companies provide examples of the power of purpose to inspire people.

Some managers might dismiss the power of purpose as a fluffy concept that distracts from the goals of achievement, productivity and competition. Those managers don’t understand that performance follows purpose. If organizations can genuinely fulfill a purpose employees believe in, employees will be inspired. "Maximizing profits may excite investors, but I assure you most employees don’t get very excited about it even if they accept it as one of the legitimate goals of business," notes John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Market. "Employees can get very excited and inspired by a business that has an important purpose."

Purpose is the definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world. Purpose:

  • Will drive all major decision-making and become the determining factor in how you allocate resources, hire employees, plan for the future and judge success.
  • Is a path to high performance. It fulfills a deep-seated need and will drive preference for your company.
  • Fosters visionary ideas and meaningful innovation.
  • Rallies troops to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
  • Holds you steady in a turbulent marketplace when times get tough and the road seems unclear.
  • Injects your brand with reality.
  • Creates a competitive advantage in attracting talented, passionate people.
  • Brings energy and vitality to work. It provides sustainable motivation.
  • Contributes to a life well-lived. Work is no longer a 9-to-5 job to be endured, but a meaningful source of fulfillment.

Defining Your Purpose

Before any high-performing culture can exist, a manager must articulate the fundamental purpose. Why does the organization exist? How does the organization achieve goals differently from competitors? What difference is the organization trying to make in people’s lives? What are you asking your employees to strive for? Purpose is an animating force. As a manager, you will see the power of purpose at work in a variety of dimensions.

The author is co-founder and chief purposologist of the Purpose Institute and co-author of It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven By Purpose (Portfolio, 2009). She can be reached at www.thepurposeinstitute.com.

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