Purpose in Leader's DNA

I read an article this week that got me thinking about how many more questions leadership has to answer these days. The article was about one of our areas of research – “purpose”.

What I mean is when I entered the job market in the 90’s the questions I would ask of my boss were “what”, “how” and “by when”. However, the jobs I worked at the hardest and indeed for the longest were the ones I also understood the “why”, and then the few that I have honestly given my absolute all for are the ones where I also saw how my efforts contributed towards overall success.

One of these was with an SME, I knew what we were about and I saw and felt the passion from the owners every day - they told me how we were doing and what the plan was moving forward and thanked me for my performance and dedication. However, another was for a worldwide organisation, I was one of the thousands but I still felt purpose, I was just as invested and committed but that company had to work much harder to create that environment and that is where, vision, strategy and purpose become so important.

The article I read talked about employing a chief purpose officer, as a big step forward and I very much liked the explanation of the role “pulling out the meaning and benefits” and “connecting people to that”.

I say this is a big step forward but there is a model called ‘Job Characteristics’ (see below) developed by Hackman and Oldham in the 70’s, so the theory has been around for a while. What is great to see is that we are getting to the point where businesses are seeing the link between purpose, organisational performance and something else just as business critical that we’ll touch on in a moment.


Job Characteristics Model, Hackman and Oldham

Going back to the questions, it would be easy to say that business has become much more complicated, leadership is more fluffy or even that employees are more demanding. My view is that things are not any more complicated, maybe leadership is more approachable but this is all driven by competition. Competition for customers, market share, new ideas, products and also the big one – to attract and keep the best employees.

Actually the term 'human capital' doesn’t really sound right, it sounds like a term where people are just commodities, but the meaning is the opposite. Even in a digital age people are still our most prized assets and if in the mix our most important and valuable assets perform at their best with a clear purpose then companies would be mad not to invest in bringing that to life.

I also read that millennials value successes beyond just bottom line performance, again I don’t think this is anything new other than it is now an expectation – it has become necessary; and when you consider that by 2020 millennials will make up half the workforce, it turns from a competitive advantage into a business critical activity – give your people purpose!

There is no point dressing it up, this takes time and investment, I like the theory of a chief purpose officer but I also see dangers. When giving purpose becomes something on the ‘to do’ list it’s never going to be sustainable, creating purpose needs to be something ingrained in every leader's DNA, it needs to become an unconscious ability. Where leaders need to put the effort in is in making sure every means of communication strengthens the feeling of purpose. 

However, like learning anything new you have to put the effort in upfront until it becomes second nature, the way we approach this at Collingwood is as we would any other business critical topic. Firstly do the background work, analyse the 'as-is' either through facilitation or assessment and then do some strategic planning. I love the Covey term “begin with the end in mind” it’s really what strategic planning is all about, and when you are clear on the 'as is', you can start on the fun part – ‘where do we want to get to?’ and ‘how are we going to do it’?

We run many strategic planning sessions around creating purposeful performance, if this is topic you feel could add some value to your organisation here is a little motivation; findings suggest that companies with a purpose and values-based culture achieved 400% higher revenues, 700% greater job growth and 1200% higher stock prices than those without!

A good place to start understanding the power of purpose is our free white paper: