The Purpose Effect: A Q&A with Dan Pontefract

By Desda Moss Jun 1, 2016
Reuse Permissions
The-Purpose-Effect_FC-683x1024.jpgCompanies with high levels of employee engagement consistently outperform their competitors, earning 147 percent more per share on the stock market than companies with low engagement scores, according to Gallup research. Yet employee surveys continue to show a dismal lack of engagement in the workforce, with more than 70 percent of U.S. workers—and nearly 90 percent worldwide—reporting that they are disengaged in their jobs.

In The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization (Elevate, 2016), author Dan Pontefract sets out to get to the core of how companies build and maintain employee engagement. He concludes that raising engagement is a matter of establishing each worker’s personal purpose and then identifying where it intersects with the organization’s purpose and the meaning derived from an individual’s specific job role. Pontefract calls this axis the “sweet spot” for employees as well as companies. He says it’s possible to cultivate this three-way balance over time through continuous self-awareness and organizational awareness.

Here, Pontefract shares some insights from his book.

Why did you write the book?
I wrote The Purpose Effect to prove that there is indeed a link between purpose and culture. The concept of purpose was something I wanted to explore deeply, and [I wanted to] prove that an organization and its employees are better off with the dynamic duo of culture and purpose.
If the purpose of the organization and [that of] its team members are aligned—and the organization is operating in an open, collaborative and harmonious culture—it delivers the one-two punch of societal and organizational benefits.

Why is finding the “sweet spot” so elusive for individuals as well as companies?
The Purpose Effect is a three-legged stool. If one of the legs is broken or uneven, either an employee ends up crashing to the ground or there is a perpetual wobble, prompting a feeling of uneasiness. Such a lack of balance in the workplace can result in personal disengagement, disbandment of a team or, in the direst instance, the end of the organization itself.

How do you define purpose for an organization?
An organization’s (be it a for-profit or a nonprofit) purpose is tied to how its principles, ethics and culture inform its way of operating. If an organization demonstrates what I refer to as “good DEEDS,” it will be known as a purpose-driven organization. I define “good DEEDS” as:

  • Delighting your customers
  • Engaging your team members
  • Ethical within society
  • Delivering fair practices
  • Serving all stakeholders

What steps can employees as well as leaders take to realize their “sweet spot” in purpose?
From an individual perspective, people need to constantly challenge themselves to strengthen their own personal purpose first. Without a continuously updated sense of personal purpose, there is a greater likelihood for the individual to be devoid of both personal and role-based purpose.
For an organization, the first step is to evaluate its current state of purpose. Is it enacting all five components of “good DEEDS”? Leaders ought to then develop a dashboard that is open to the public, outlining and reporting on various sub-drivers that make up its organizational purpose.

How can employees continue to develop and strengthen their sense of personal purpose?

Personal purpose, in essence, is a lifetime journey. Many individuals make the mistake of believing once they “find themselves” there is no need to further develop their personal purpose. This is where a lot of trouble begins for people—where disengagement or disaffection can creep in. We ought to yearn for new experiences, knowledge and acumen, whether through projects, roles, rotations, mentors, education and so on. Every decision—every day of our being—is a decision on how we choose to act with personal purpose … or not.

About Book Reviews

HR Magazine's Book Reviews keep you up to date on must-read titles related to HR and other business topics through weekly book reviews, author posts and recommendations. Looking for a good read? Visit the SHRMStore, our online bookstore, for a wide selection of HR books from multiple authors and disciplines, or sign up for a weekly e-newsletter, which highlights new titles and special offers.

For more information on how to contribute to the reviews, view our author guidelines.

View SHRM Books that support HR Behavioral Competencies

Join Our Book Group

Discuss your favorite HR book on SHRM Connect in the SHRM Book Group.

You can also interact with the SHRM editorial staff and learn about SHRM editorial and publishing operations at the SHRM Publishing and E-Media Group on SHRM Connect.

Reuse Permissions


CA Resources at Your Fingertips

View all Resources Now

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 3,200 companies

Search & Connect