The new norm in business may be varying states of disruption and distraction, but the conversation in CEO circles is shifting to purpose as being the new leading edge. A renewed focus on purpose, on people, and importantly, how purpose and people translates to progress.

But what is it?

It’s an organisation’s aspirational reason for being, which inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation and its partners and stakeholders.

Recent research by the EY Beacon Institute on the ‘business case for purpose’ based on this definition, highlights the correlation between the extent to which it is utilised by organisations and the impact that it has upon their ability to grow, innovate, and transform.

Only a minority said their company currently runs in a purpose-driven way, despite the widespread belief among executives that purpose matters and a strong sense that collective purpose drives employee satisfaction, has positive effects on key performance drivers and increases customer loyalty.

The concept is gaining traction as not only a core business driver but also as key to talent attraction and retention strategies.

A return to purpose

The renewed interest in purpose is encouraging many organisations to switch from focusing on what they do, to why they do what they do.

Leadership consultant Simon Sinek hit a chord in his 2009 TED talk Start with why, when he famously said – ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’.

Increasingly we’re seeing professionals make career decisions based on an organisation’s ‘why’ and how effectively it’s brought to life across the organisation; rather than on the role itself, or the paycheck. Millennials may get accused of being ‘fussy’, but in reality, purpose is now speaking across every generation.

It is interesting to consider the LinkedIn Top Companies list for Australia compared with the UK. Only one brand aligned to retail, Wesfarmers, is included in Australia’s top 10 list of places ‘we want to work’. Yet in the UK list, half of the top 10 companies are retail, including John Lewis Partnership, ASOS, Arcadia Group, Harrods and Sainsbury’s.

A new entrant of note on the Australian list for 2017 was Scentre Group, coming in at number 13. Scentre Group’s journey to become a purposeful leader in retail and property with a strong values-driven DNA has not gone unnoticed by talent in the sector. The Company’s renewed purpose to ‘create extraordinary places, connecting and enriching communities’ and their vision ‘to be the best place where talent can thrive’ is seeing significant transformation across the entire organisation including through their Diversity and Inclusion strategy.

The path 

1. Defining it

Every organisation has a purpose. If you’re not able to answer the question, ‘why do you do what you do?’ or if most people in your organisation aren’t familiar with it then defining and articulating your organisation’s purpose is a critical first step.

However, don’t confuse purpose with marketing or branding. Purpose, should impact every aspect of the company and every decision considered through the lens of purpose. More than words on a page, purpose should live and breathe in a meaningful way such as through performance metrics and recognition.

2. Empowering your people to be purposeful

As the adage goes, actions speak louder than words. It is all well and good for senior leadership to be aligned on purpose, but without alignment across the entire company, it falls flat.

Too often we see a disconnect between the theory and the reality of purpose in organisations, which becomes evident when talent is ‘sold’ one version of the truth and experience something altogether different.

Customers too recognise the great service that comes from highly motivated and engaged staff aligned on purpose.

Hiring for purpose

Organisations that have a clear purpose naturally attract talent that will thrive within their culture.

Hiring these people builds a strong foundation. Candidates who seek out opportunities with brands based personal alignment tend to be a better fit culturally than those who start with the salary package.

Unsurprisingly, purpose also plays a critical role in retaining talent. Where employees are driven by and are meaningfully contributing to an organisation’s purposefulness, there is a greater sense of belonging. Based on the EY research, executives at companies where it’s a priority believe that their employees are more engaged and their customers are also more loyal.

When business gets tough it takes a conscious and courageous leader to step back from the numbers and focus on the bigger picture – not what you are doing but why you are doing it.

With countless organisations having seemingly lost their way, it’s the organisations that recognise the power of purpose that are starting to see progress.

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