The Purpose Effect

"Purpose brings out the best in people and the best people."

- The Purpose Effect, page xxii

Are you ever frustrated that people don’t take initiative, or go above and beyond the call of duty, or bring their all to your team’s effort? 87% of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges. And it’s no wonder: studies show that only 30% of workers in America consider themselves engaged at work and one out of two people at work simply “don’t care”.

What is the solution?

Pontefract shows us in The Purpose Effect that connecting organizations and their people to their purpose is the answer. And there is a tremendous need for this. Research shows that 90% of workers are not connected to their purpose. Why is this a problem? Why should you care about purpose and how do you achieve it? We explore the answers to these questions below.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Purpose as a strategic advantage

"Purpose has moved from a ‘nice to have’ to a strategic business imperative."
- The Purpose Effect, page xxi

Dan Pontefract isn’t the first to propose that purpose is the secret ingredient of the most successful companies. People have discussed purpose since the time of the ancient Greeks. Remember Peter Drucker who said, “Business purpose and business mission are so rarely given adequate thought [and it] is perhaps the most important cause of business frustration and failure.”

Aaron Hurst said, “In today’s world, running an organization without an internal emphasis on purpose for employees and customers is like running an organization in the early 1990’s and failing to implement technology.”

And, it was Rick Wartzman who said that “building a deep and authentic sense of purpose could be a company’s ultimate competitive advantage.”

When people believe in their company’s purpose (or what Dan Pink would call the big P) and can clearly articulate how their role connects to that purpose (or the small p as Dan would say), they achieve better results.

There is abundant evidence to demonstrate the causal relationship between culture, purpose, engagement and bottom line. For example, a study by Queen’s University found over a 10-year analysis of more than 110,000 surveys, bottom-line benefits to an engaged workforce including:

  • 26% less turnover
  • 100% more unsolicited employment applications
  • 20% less absenteeism
  • 15% greater team member productivity
  • 30% greater customer satisfaction levels
  • 65% increase in share price

People who consider themselves engaged at work are twice as productive, stay five times longer in their job, are six times more energized, take ten times fewer sick days, and help their peers 33% more.

Deloitte LLP unearthed evidence showing that an organization with a culture of purpose creates confidence, short and long-term growth, as well as financial benefits.

“Purpose is a better motivator than money,” writes Pontefract. “Money, while necessary, motivates neither the best people nor the best in people. Purpose does.”

And to illustrate with a real-life example what the research shows, just yesterday, after I ran a Power of Purpose workshop with a group of pharma sales reps, a participant approached me and said “You likely don’t remember but I was in this same workshop last year. At the time, I was about to leave the company. I’m here today because of this session. I’m now driven by my purpose and loving my job.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s awesome! I bet your doctors love talking with you.”

“Well,” she said with a big smile, “I have the top sales in my region!” Driven by her purpose, she was helping more patients, doing good and doing well.

Data proves that both the organization and the team member benefit when culture and purpose are aligned. When the culture and purpose of an organization are such that the team member feels engaged and can demonstrate one’s own sense of role-based purpose, that’s when everyone benefits. Sadly, however, evidence shows that most organizations are still characterized by disengagement and lack of purpose.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The sweet spot

"Profit and purpose are not in conflict. The closer and tighter we focus on purpose; the more profit grows. The more we focus on profit, the less we make."
- Mike Dejardins, DEO of ViRTUS, quoted in The Purpose Effect, page 158

Where is the sweet spot when it all works? When a person connects the dots, or sees the alignment between personal, organizational and role purpose, that’s when the maximum outcomes will be achieved. Not only do they believe in the organization’s purpose, but that purpose is meaningful to them and they can see how their role contributes to fulfilling the purpose.

A question for you: Do you see your work as merely a job, or do you feel the possibility of a meaningful experience?

A question for your company: Are the decisions you make as an organization focused only on shareholder returns or on the best interests of all stakeholders?

In both instances, if you answer the latter, you are more likely to achieve greater outcomes. The purpose of an organization ought to be, Pontefract argues, to “provide service to benefit all intended stakeholders.”

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

How do leaders make it work?

"You need authentic leaders who are able to model purpose and vulnerability and you need leaders who have the courage to look beyond short-term results."
- The Purpose Effect, page 32

If you are waiting for purpose to magically happen, give up. Creating an organization driven by purpose takes hard work and courage. It’s not enough to just put it in the company mission statement. It takes individual and team work and leadership. Purpose must be felt by people at all levels of the organization and the leaders have an especially important role in igniting this purpose.

Leaders must have a long-term approach and invest in helping their people feel like they are making a difference. Think about the people on your team. How many of them have a job mindset (where they perform duties, in return for compensation)? How many have a career mindset (where they are interested performing such that they can advance salary, title, power, team size or span of control)?

What you ideally want are people with a purpose mindset (where they are passionate, innovative and committed to a meaningful and engaging workplace that serves and benefits all stakeholders). What do you need to stop, start or continue thinking, saying and doing to model and nurture this purpose mindset in your people?

Purpose is becoming increasingly important in today’s workforce. People are spending more time investing in figuring out their why. Achieving the purpose effect takes hard work, perseverance and an ability between the individual and the organization to achieve the sweet spot.

Pontefract says it’s not impossible, but it is difficult. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? It is only those who dare to take this road less travelled that will reap the bountiful rewards of purpose-driven people and organizations. Will you be one of them?

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Jill Donahue

ABOUT Jill Donahue

Everything I do is focused on improving patient outcomes. I do that by being a student and teacher of ethical, effective influence. I teach pharma people and health care professionals how to improve their ability to influence others...
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