What does a company purpose mean and how important is it to businesses, organisations and individuals? Company purpose is defined as the most important reason for the business or organisation’s existence and the value they add to the world.
In a recent article McKinsey published, “During times of crisis, individual purpose can be a guidepost that helps people face up to uncertainties and navigate them better, and thus mitigate the damaging effects of long-term stress. People who have a strong sense of purpose tend to be more resilient and exhibit better recovery from negative events.” Source: Stacey M. Schaefer et al., “Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli,” PLoS One, Volume 8, Number 11, 2013, ncbi.nlm.gov
They found that people who are connected to their purpose at work report much higher levels of personal well-being and health. For businesses, there is the benefit that such employees tend to have much higher levels of engagement, organisational commitment and productivity.
This indicates that when individual employees’ purpose aligns with that of the organisation, the organisation can achieve extraordinary results.
It is worthwhile for top management to create an environment where these two can reinforce each other. The alignment process starts with new appointments, the organisation culture, matching and growing people into jobs they find fulfilling, as well as the way employees are rewarded and recognised.
During these trying times, we have the opportunity to validate the organisational purpose. Currently, most organisations are only trying to survive, to get through this COVID-19 storm. Survival or making big profits can’t be the organisational purpose as these factors will most definitely not carry any businesses through a crisis like the current. Many companies retreated into isolation trying to minimise the impact, possibly retrenching employees to cut the salary bills and contain costs. Many will not be able to open, or will it take a long time to recover.
In the literature, we find that organisations that have discovered and live their company purpose, have a sound foundation and set of values that can guide critical and decisive action.
We have heard examples of businesses that during these testing times, switched from producing cosmetics to producing hand sanitiser. Companies changing to be of value to humanity not only to serve their shareholders interests. It will be interesting to see how these organisations will evolve and grow post this time of crisis. It was noted that customers would remember how companies treated them and their employees during these difficult times.
When your business purpose becomes clear, it can be used to test decisions. If they do not comply, they may not fit in with your organisation’s identity and can cause conflict if pushed through. In an article earlier this year (pre-corona), I had read about the conflict within Google, when they refused to make certain data available to employees. Yes, the same Google with a mission or purpose statement that reads: “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. The employees were triggered and they spoke-up, when the organisation did not honour its purpose, the purpose the employees signed-up for.
The more the business purpose and the employees’ purpose are aligned, the easier it will be for businesses to survive times of difficulty. In his book “Reinventing organisations” LaLoux gave an example at Favi, where the workers decided on their own initiative, to take a pay-cut to ensure that not even the temporary workers would lose their jobs.
McKinsey found in a recent survey of US workers that 82% of the survey takers agreed that the organisation’s purpose is essential, only 42% indicated that their company’s stated purpose had much effect.
Now is the best time for organisations to reconfirm their organisational purpose, and to use it to transform or adapt to the changing conditions and ready themselves to rebuild for growth when the restrictions of the pandemic are lifted.
Contact us if you need assistance in determining your company’s purpose.
Daniel Esterhuizen at