Purpose is the raison d’etre for you as an individual, or for your organization. It needs to be stated in simple, plain English in a way that people can connect to and be excited about. And there are 3 letters that can elevate them to even greater power.
Let’s start with organizational shared purpose. In yesterday’s post, I quoted this HBR article that said that corporate shared purpose exists “to inspire your staff to do good work for you, find a way to express the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients — whomever you’re trying to serve. Make them feel it.”
So what are some actual examples?
Here is Nintendo’s purpose:
The only modifications I’d make to these is to start with a gerund (ending in ‘ing’) rather than ‘to do something’. For example, if I’d worked with Starbucks in crafting their purpose it would have been ‘Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit…’ instead of ‘to inspire and nurture’.
Well, our brains work in pictures, not words. For example, if I asked you how many windows are in your home, how would you get your answer? You’d visualize it and walk through your home.
Well, if you say ‘to inspire and nurture’, your brain makes a still picture to represent the words. If you say ‘inspiring and nurturing’, you create a movie in your mind’s eye, and a movie is far more compelling than a simple picture.
Similarly, when I work with my clients on connecting with their inner core purpose on a personal level, I it usually comes down to a couple of words, and I challenge my clients to transform the first word into a gerund. This, instead of saying that their purpose is ‘to help others’ or ‘to make connections’ or ‘to heal conflict’, I challenge them to play with ‘helping others’, ‘making connections’ or ‘healing conflict’. In a quarter of a century of doing this work, every single person has found the gerund version much more compelling. And at its heart, it’s not the words that are important – it’s the connection to the inner feeling of purpose. The words are simply the label – or the key to unlock all of that.
Whether you’re talking about your business or your personal life, there’s one common ingredient to success most people miss. Everyone focuses on what they do – not on the why.
How many organizations have mission statements that are perfectly suited to put an insomniac to sleep? “We strive to be a world class provider of (insert business here) pursuing excellence and always putting our people and customers first” Yawn.
How many of you focus on goals or your next career move and have to work like crazy to motivate yourself and drive yourself to get everything done to accomplish that, burning out any passion or joy along the journey?
Both of those approaches, whether corporate or personal, are focused on what you do, not why. What you do has no passion, no drive, no motivation in and of itself. That’s why you have to motivate yourself or your team or your organization.
So how do you do anything differently? Well here’s a revolutionary thought. What if you started with your motivation, your raison d’etre, and then drawing your goals from there so your motivation, and the drive of your team in an organization are implicitly built in to whatever situation arises?
It sounds pretty radical, but if you look at the organizations that are most successful, they are the ones that focus on their purpose first, not on what they do. Same with people. The ones who consistently live fuller and more meaningful lives are those who live on-purpose.
Purpose is not just about you, whether you’re talking about yourself or your organization – it’s about how you make a difference in the world. That’s something that can set you on fire for your personal purpose. It’s also something that can set everyone in your organization alight when you’re talking about organizational purpose.
Purpose is not mission or vision. As detailed in this HBR article, purpose exists to inspire your staff to do good work for you, find a way to express the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients — whomever you’re trying to serve. Make them feel it.
The evolution of mission into more purpose-ful organizations is illustrated in this article, showing how organizations transformed their business by focusing on helping first, and selling second. Mission statements are usually very insular, looking inward, and have the motivational power of going for a root canal. Purpose statements are simple (in plain English, not vision-speak) and focus on why you do what you do.
In a similar way, personal purpose needs to be a simple statement that gets to the why of all of your life, not just your work.