Purpose inspires the unmet longing of humans to make a significant difference in the lives of people. Korn Ferry Institute research on consumer products companies indicates just how much purpose actually powers performance. Comparing “average purpose-driven” companies to “highly purpose-driven” consumer companies, we found four times the revenue growth over a three year period.
As leaders we have a responsibility to address this significant question: “Why is it so important that we exist?” With this question, we courageously face who we are and how we are in the world. As the battle rages for the soul of capitalism, we need to pause on a few questions: Will we define business solely in terms of transactional financial levers, designed to accumulate capital, or will we apply our vision to shape business as a more universal lever that serves a higher, more sustainable purpose? Will the top two percent serve the 98 percent, or will the top two percent dominate, control, and be served by the 98 percent? When will we elevate from enterprise success to ecosystem sustainability? What is a new, broader definition of value creation that can endure?
A few years ago, Unilever recruited a purpose-driven leader, Marijn Dekkers, to be Chairman of the Board. Along with then CEO, Paul Polman, Dekkers placed purpose at the center of enduring value creation. During his tenure as CEO of Bayer, Dekkers’ leadership had brought vitality and relevance to Bayer’s purpose, culture, leadership growth and market value. Commenting on this purpose-driven value creation, Dekkers shared with me: “It is relatively easy to pull financial levers to generate short-term profit. Many people can do that. What is challenging, and the real skill of leadership, is to inspire sustainable growth by relentlessly serving all stakeholders, not just shareholders but employees, customers, vendors, communities, and the planet. When purpose becomes the generator of profit, then long-term success, service, and sustainability have a chance to be realized.”
In the end, we have to challenge ourselves with a very tough question: As individual leaders, as organizations, and as participants in conscious capitalism, do we see ourselves as being in service to all those we touch, or do we see ourselves as being served by them? Service is the soul of purpose-driven leadership and sustainable capitalism.
Has Performance Become Your Purpose?
A while ago I was working with the CEO of a global food company. She was well known for her decisive, performance-oriented style. Unlike some hyper-driven leaders, she was also highly effective in coaching her key people and bonding with her senior team. However, a compelling purpose was missing. She had never made it clear to people why they should drive so hard.
At one point in our engagement, I asked, “Has performance become your purpose?” Liking the idea, she quickly responded, “Yes. That’s it. We are here to perform.” Pausing for a moment to let what she had said sink in, I then asked, “Are you sure? Is this really why people choose to be here? Is this why your customers choose your products? Is it why it is important that your company exists?” Reflecting more carefully, she hesitantly responded, “I guess, when you put it that way, I’ve always thought deep down that our company exists at its most fundamental level to nourish the world, one person at a time.”
So how can we clarify personal and organizational purpose? Finding the value-creating intersection of GIFTS-GROW-GIVE:
- GIFTS: What are the gifts that bring value to any given situation or person?
- GROW: What do you need to grow, develop, or innovate to make your gifts even more powerful?
- GIVE: What do you aspire to contribute to the lives of others?
When we bring our gifts, and our growth edge, to touch the lives of people, we give the gift of purpose. Personally, I aspire to: “Dancing between the playful and the profound to grow beyond together.” At my best, my GIFTS balance both the playful and the inspirational. One without the other is incomplete, both together are my unique dance! My GIVE is “to help people to grow beyond.” My GROW is to “do it together,” in deep relationship and collaboration.
In, Leadership from the Inside Out, you can see many tangible examples. Moving forward from the multi-faceted challenges through which we are navigating, let’s remember to make our personal, team and organizational lives better, now…and next on-purpose. What is your GIFT-GROW-GIVE purpose equation?