People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.
That nugget of wisdom comes from one of the world’s most-watched TED talks – Simon Sinek’s Start with Why.
I have never been able to shake off the power of that talk.
Sinek’s point is that ‘purpose’ or ‘the why’ is at the core of every impactful person and organization in the world.
It is the driving force behind their rise to the top, whether it’s the impact left by Martin Luther King Jr. or the waves made by Apple.
There is no question that businesses and individuals with a clear sense of purpose go a much longer way than those without one.
A clear purpose provides alignment, motivation, stability, and most of all, a reason to be and to do.
I started to see the outlines of my life purpose somewhere between the ages of eight and thirteen.
In the mid-90s, my family and I spent five difficult years moving from country to country, trying to rebuild our lives after we were displaced from our home in Iran.
It was in that instability that I realized that the only real place I can find stability is in myself, my thoughts, and my actions.
I knew then that in everything that I did, I wanted to help people to lead better lives.
And through the uphill battle of being a foreigner and a refugee, I still held on to that purpose with everything I had.
Throughout my job roles, all the way from my weekend shifts as a barista back when I was in university, to leading the refugee resettlement programs at NAV (Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration), my purpose has always been in clear focus.
“I believe that when done with the right intention, even serving a cup of coffee with genuine care can help make someone’s day and life a little bit better”.
As former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz puts it, “When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.”
I think this is the most crucial element to success: A company’s purpose is meaningless without the buy-in and support of its people.
Every employee within an organization needs to find purpose and meaning in their role and align with the organization’s purpose, on the whole, to bring about that holistic sense of commitment and togetherness.
HR Managers need to dive into what really drives people, and hire, promote and manage teams with a purpose-first approach.
To give you an example, let me circle back to my sense of purpose. It paved the path for me into my current job with NAV, where I have worked for nearly a decade now.
As an organization, NAV’s mission is to give people opportunities. They do this by allowing people to access work, meaningful activity, and an income.
My work with the organization involves managing the resettlement and introduction program for refugees in Norway and providing them a shot at making a decent life for themselves here.
The fact that this is so closely aligned with my purpose helps me bring the same energy, will, and determination to my work year after year.
Although NAV helps me stay true to my purpose, I knew I wanted to do more.
And so, my purpose extended into the company that I co-founded, Generation Mobility. At GenM, our mission is to give global organizations the tools, information, and support they need to thrive anywhere in the world.
We aim to remove the global mobility barriers that slow people and organizations down and hold them back from achieving their goals after they cross borders.
It was not until I started managing teams and working with large organizations that I realized that purpose is hardly a personal concept.
It is one of the pillars upon which businesses and governments and built. It is what blazes them to success through thick and thin.
Take a look at companies like Whole Foods.
Whole Foods is a leading US-based organic foods grocer. Whole Foods website clearly defines purpose and core values. Their purpose statement reads as follows:
“Our purpose is to nourish people and the planet. We’re a purpose-driven company that aims to set the standards of excellence for food retailers. Quality is a state of mind at Whole Foods Market.”
Can you see how this becomes the central mantra to everything Whole Foods does?
From their ‘Growing Healthy Kids’ campaign to their Sustainable Canned Tuna initiative, everything aligns completely with their purpose to nourish people and the planet.
Whole Foods has had its purpose and intentions questioned, yes, but those are the hurdles of growth. In fact, in those times of difficulty, a clear sense of purpose is perhaps even more critical to an organization.
The Future of Work: A Purpose-First Approach
A company is its people, and people who come to work with a clear sense of purpose and more driven, are happier and perform better.
Here are three purpose-first approaches for companies to adopt to succeed in a globalized future of work:
1. Build ‘purpose’ into the company’s DNA
The mission, vision, and values of a company shouldn’t be a static page on the corporate website. They need to become a part of the company’s day-to-day activity.
Is the recruitment team using it to align individual purposes with the company’s mission?
Is marketing using it to align marketing campaigns to the company’s purpose?
Is R&D using it to develop products and services that help drive the company’s purpose further?
These are difficult to implement but imperative to create a purpose-driven organization that transcends borders, economic downturns, and more.
2. Create a purpose-fueled legacy
Nothing gets buy-in better than leading by example. Show your employees, your customers, and every other stakeholder of your business that you remain true to your purpose in all that you do.
While authenticity plays a significant role here, it is essential to fuel that authenticity with the right media and public attention.
Today, you can harness the power of social media to instill a mass sense of purpose – something that businesses didn’t have a couple of decades ago.
In every action, strive to become the organization that you say you want to be. This is something that needs to work on the individual level just as much as the organizational level.
3. Align organizational purpose with an individual purpose
As an organization, you can have the most robust sense of purpose, but if you aren’t taking care of your people, their individual needs, well-being and their sense of purpose, then growth is going to be a challenge.
Today, taking care of your people is much more than attractive pay packages and benefits. It’s about creating a culture of care and nurture.
Create that base and your company’s purpose, mission, and vision will come to life simply because the responsibility lays in the right hands.
I do believe that the future of work belongs to organizations that have a clear sense of purpose, and that sense of purpose is lived at every level within its structure.
The changing demands of the workforce indicate that people want a lot more from their jobs – they want meaning, experiences, relationships, and self-actualization.
Employment is no longer a means to a paycheck. People are seeking to fulfill their purpose with their jobs.
When they find jobs that give them that, they are driven to achieve remarkable results.
The way I see it, it’s the most natural form of energy and potential to tap into.
But how many organizations are adopting a purpose-first approach to harness that potential? Is yours?