5 Biggest Misconceptions of What Purpose Means in an Organization


Purpose is everywhere. It became a buzz word already. I am so happy that we finally talk about what it means in life and at work.

As I do Purpose work in companies, I see many misconceptions of what it means to be a Purpose-Driven Organization though. In this article I want to share what it is not:

  1. It is not a beautiful sentence that a leader creates to frame and hang on the wall that will never be seen or revisited again.

  2. It is not a marketing tool.

  3. It is not a lofty ideal.

  4. It is not a goal.

  5. It is not giving to charity.

None of these form a purpose-driven company.

Purpose is not a sentence created to be framed and forgotten.

Purpose can be very clear to a founder at the very early stages of forming a company that has a deeper meaning to him/her. The reason any entrepreneur starts a business is so much more than making money. If the founder is aware of this WHY in him or in her, that will be the WHY of the company right from the start. It cannot end there though. You make sure, it speaks to people’s hearts not only their minds. Everybody in contact with the company, all stakeholders need to now this WHY.

Some of the best examples I have seen do not even tie their why to their services or products. Those are the ones who know their people comes first. Like WD-40 says “We exist to create positive lasting memories in everything we do.” It has nothing to do with the lubricant they sell.

If a company that has been in business for years want to integrate purpose into their culture, it starts with a brainstorming exercise. In those sessions, I invite people from all departments to get their point of views on what their WHY could be. It is always fascinating to see what people come up with. So at the end, purpose becomes a statement embraced by many, instead of only coming from the top. We usually have the best ideas from people who already love what they do and get excited about looking at the big picture rather than their daily tasks.

So when the purpose statement is done, it does get be framed may be but that is not enough. Every one, yes EVERY one in the company gets to know it. It is part of their daily life now. It does not go away; it becomes a constant reminder of why they work there.

It is not a marketing tool.

It certainly is not a marketing tool. Some companies will never even find out what purpose actually means, but will use it in their ads just to get attention since people care about it now. I guess there is no way to stop them. I trust people though who can tell what is authentic and what is not. We are so over companies who say one thing and than act totally different when it comes to delivering on that promise. (Trust in companies are lowest in the last decades for a reason.)

Purpose is not only a lofty nice ideal to have.

It is something you strive for every day with every decision made by the company. If Southwest says “affordable traveling” in their why, they will resist all the pressure coming from shareholders to charge for luggage. At least they stayed firm until now. They were told they are leaving 300 million dollars on the table by not charging for baggage but I bet they make more money than that because they kept their promise to their customers. We don’t see so many examples of companies who will not go for extra money they can charge, so it makes us loyal to them when they do. It is keeping your WHY alive even when it is hard to stick by it. You aspire to be better every day.

Purpose is not a goal.

Goals are like growing my company 10 fold in the next 5 years, like making xxx profit. Purpose in the other hand is something people are inspired by. It is a lot more than numbers. It answers the question “How will my company impact lives?” It is usually something that you cannot measure; at least not directly. It is something you feel. It is something you believe in and want to be part of.

When Purpose is implemented correctly, it is part of EVERY decision, business strategy, Talent Development and hiring practices. In organizations we go into lots of details to activate it. We change processes, mindsets, trainings, decision making to incorporate purpose in the right way to create positive change. It is not only a sentence; it is a way to run the business.

Purpose is not giving to charity.

One biggest misconception I see is giving to charity looks like Purpose to many. Giving to charity as a company is great, sending your people to do volunteer work, the same. I am all up for it but it does not make you a purposeful business in the real sense. Purposeful businesses have a very clear WHY they exist and it is the foundation of everything they do from then on.

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