Does Your Purpose Make a Sound?


So, you’ve defined your organization’s purpose and it reads something like this, “To help build a better world.” Then you anxiously sit back and wait as the thousands of opportunities and potential new employees come flooding through the door because of the natural attraction to your raison d'être. Yet not much has changed. You really do have a deep desire to help change the world and you believe your business can have that kind of impact. But it’s business as usual and the only result that's come from defining your purpose is that you’ve checked the box on this important strategic exercise. What gives?


Discovering your organization’s purpose isn’t about coming up with the perfect definition of what your organization does in the marketplace or what it should become, nor is it about setting a target to be achieved. A purpose serves as a guidepost for the journey you’re undertaking to make informed decisions that align your organization and its people around common goals and objectives. What you’ll realize along the way is that achieving the purpose is elusive. Enduring companies are on a perpetual voyage, always chasing a target that is moving. Leaders in these organizations understand that purpose is a journey and the journey itself is the true fulfillment of that purpose.


Declaring your purpose is one thing, living your purpose is the only thing that matters. Purpose without action is like the proverbial tree that falls in the woods. Does it really make a sound? Many organizations are proud to display their purpose, mission statement, and core values for all to see, but when living out those proclaimed values might result in an adverse impact to short-term results, their actions speak a different language. The truly remarkable leaders have nailed it on the head!


When Jerry Stritzke, CEO of outdoor retailer REI, stood atop a Washington State mountain peak to declare his company’s purpose, the world listened. In the month leading up to the 2015 holiday shopping season, REI didn’t run advertisements proclaiming Black Friday blockbuster sales, but instead Stritzke announced that “…this Black Friday we’re closing all 143 of our stores, and we’re paying our employees to get outside, because we believe a life lived outside is a life well lived. We’d rather be in the mountains than in the aisles.” REI’s decision to close their doors on one of the most profitable days of the year was completely aligned with their purpose: “To inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” Could some people consider REI’s campaign as a clever advertising gimmick to generate greater appeal and more revenue? Sure, but how many retailers would be willing to risk the financial rewards of Black Friday for such an endeavor?


Purpose matters because it provides a guidepost as to what the organization believes is most important. It serves as a scorecard for the behaviors and actions of an organization’s leadership. It can provide a playbook for employees on how to deal with major challenges. And when leaders behave in alignment with their organization’s purpose, they can cement deep loyalties with their stakeholders. Purpose matters because it ignites the energy in others and through that shared energy any organization can achieve remarkable results over a lifetime.


So, when you go through that process of defining your organization’s purpose, think long and hard about what contributions you want your business to make. Clearly define what your purpose is and then declare it to the world. And then … here comes the truly hard part … live out that purpose in everything your organization does, despite what impact it may have in the short term. But watch out, you just might find a flood of opportunities coming through your door.

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