A 2021 McKinsey report tells us that employees expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives. Employers need to help meet this need or be prepared to lose talent to companies that will. It’s no longer just a case of defining a company purpose to make widgets and keep customers happy, it’s also about contributing to society.

EASIER FOR LARGE OR SOCIAL BUSINESS

That’s all wonderful if you’re in a business related to a social cause, and it even sounds easy if you’re a big business with the capacity to have employees use company time to form environmental sustainability teams and get involved in charity initiatives, but what about the small-medium businesses? How does their work bring purpose to the lives of their employees? Interestingly when I ran this exercise recently with a very small welding business, without prompting their conversation was all around giving back.

I reckon if they can think like that, any size business can. Try stretching your purpose to include making a difference to the local community or perhaps the global environment and see how that feels.

GREATER PURPOSE VS CORE PURPOSE

This might sound in contrast to Jim Collins’ teaching in Good to Great (2001), where he suggests great organisations focus on what they can be great at and avoid getting distracted. This is where leaders sometimes become confused with a blurring between values and purpose. I believe Collins was suggesting the core business activity must relate to the core business purpose, but that doesn’t mean organisations can’t also contribute to the wider society, even in unrelated ways. After all, businesses have been sponsoring sports teams for as long as I can remember.

My tip – don’t get hung up on this. Get someone to facilitate the process of understanding your core purpose to prevent strategic plans from diverging and deviating from that purpose. Then if you also choose to support a greater social cause such as the environment, this can increase employee engagement and inspiration for working in your organisation.

Either way, the main thing is you and your team have a shared understanding of what is important.