MISSING THE IDEA OF PURPOSE
In my first article, I told the story of how I came to understand the human-side of disruption—or the terror people feel when they are going through unexpected and unwanted change and transformation. More specifically, I shared how several excruciating experiences of “being disrupted” inspired me to find an antidote to prevent future ones, and that this quest ultimately led to three key insights:
- How we lead strategy is the single biggest differentiator between organizational greatness and decline.
- To lead strategy requires we all be “Leaders of Strategy”-- people with the courage and competence to inspire and mobilize others to fully realize a strategy that takes us to a better place.
- The most effective “Leaders of Strategy” leverage a holistic model, which simply stated, allows them to 1) develop strategy, align teams to it and ensure it's executed and 2) think, act and influence in ways that inspire others to come on the journey.
After publishing that post, I continued to test these ideas and use them more deeply in my own practice. Doing so led me to realize that something very foundational was missing. I hadn’t quite nailed it.
Over the months that followed, I agonized over what didn’t feel quite right, and ultimately, after a seminal event late last year, was able to identify the insight I had initially missed:
4. To lead strategy well, you must do it from a place of purpose.
THE POWER OF PURPOSE
To help understand why purpose is so critical, let’s explore it a bit further.
Take 30 seconds to think of a time when your life felt “on-purpose”- when you sensed you were doing the things you were built to do or being the person you were created to be.
How did you feel in that moment? What 1 or 2 words would you use to describe that experience?
If you are like many others who have answered those questions, your experience of being “on-purpose” may have included feeling “energized,” “focused,” “inspired,” “fulfilled,” or “empowered.” – all words that convey being on-purpose is powerful.
Now envision combining the power of your purpose with 10, 100, 1,000 others who share that same purpose. Can you imagine how the energy would multiply? Harnessing a shared purpose connects, unifies, and mobilizes others around a common goal, which is the foundation for leading movements that create real change.
This ability to create and leverage shared purpose is critical for leaders today. In our increasingly hyper-connected, content-driven, and fragmented environment, the only organizations that will thrive will be those who stand for something compelling and rally others around their cause.
In fact, this assertion is already proving out. Multiple studies confirm that when organizations operate from shared purpose they drive greater employee engagement, customer advocacy, innovation and growth. One recent study showed that over a 10 year period, 50 purpose-driven companies returned 400xs the shareholder return of the S&P 500.
For organizations, the power of purpose is performance.
THE NEED FOR PURPOSE-DRIVEN STRATEGY
But if the impact of organizational purpose is becoming increasingly clear, and most organizations say they have a purpose, why is it, then, that far too often, purpose remains at the level of catchy tagline instead of influencing the day-to-day running of the business?
In most cases, the reason purpose is so underleveraged is because it is disconnected from strategy. By not driving strategy, purpose is not directing choices around business models, initiatives, operations or talent. And by not driving these day-to-day decisions, organizations are foregoing opportunities for impact and growth.
To close this gap between purpose and strategy, we must lead Purpose-Driven Strategy, or:
Leading Purpose-Driven Strategy means changing the core of how we “do” strategy, shifting from an outside-in to inside-out approach.
And to make this shift, each of us- as Leaders of Strategy- must first choose to lead strategy with purpose at the center of everything we do.
HOW TO LEAD PURPOSE-DRIVEN STRATEGY
But how do we do that? At the core, we must reframe fundamental questions of how we lead strategy.
Purpose Discovery: The first and most critical question to ask is “Has our organization discovered its true purpose?” The key here is true purpose, not a financial target, but rather a human-centered benefit an organization exists to create or the way it improves lives. In Grow, Jim Stengel argues your organization only has a true purpose when it can say it exists to create at least one of the following benefits:
- Elicit joy (e.g. Zappos)?
- Enable connection (e.g. Starbucks)?
- Inspire exploration (e.g. Google)?
- Evoke pride (e.g. Harley Davidson)?
- Impact society (e.g. Method)?
With a true purpose articulated, you can then ask questions to support bringing it to life:
Strategy Development: Have we envisioned the future we want to create and identified the trade-off choices required to realize it?
Strategy Alignment: Have we created a community around our shared purpose, energizing and mobilizing a movement of like-hearted employees, customers, and shareholders to make it happen?
Strategy Execution: Do we hold ourselves accountable for staying focused on bringing forth our purpose (e.g. measure and manage against it)?
Leader of Strategy Behaviors: Do I inspire others to realize our purpose through how I embody it when I lead?
USING PURPOSE-DRIVEN STRATEGY TO CREATE A BRIGHTER FUTURE
While these questions provide initial guidance on how to lead Purpose-Driven Strategy, the journey really begins the moment you choose to live your life from a place of purpose.
In fact, I am convinced that the more we live from purpose the more we can change today’s fear-driven culture, because it is purpose that gives us the inspiration, the map, and the fuel to create the future.
As Peter Drucker once said: We cannot predict the future. But we can create it.
As Leaders of Strategy, let us help our organizations create better futures by leading strategy from a place of purpose. And when we do, let that future be bolder and brighter than we ever imagined possible.
ALICIA HARE, PH.D.
Alicia Hare is an authentic, global leader of enterprise-wide strategy and strategic transformation. Grounded in a deep belief that we can all be “Leaders of Strategy,” her innovative approach to strategy combines an end-to-end methodology for strategy development and execution with fostering the cultural commitment and organizational capabilities required to inspire and enable people to make change happen. Over the past decade, this well-founded but practical approach to strategy has helped her lead strategy and deliver results in diverse industries like retail, telecommunications, media, energy and non-profits and with C-suite and senior leaders across organizations in the U.S. and abroad.