We are all grappling with changes right now both personally and professionally as we navigate the choppy waters of this global pandemic that is COVID19 and the disruption it has caused to businesses across the globe. Certainly, the business owner /CEO/Team Leader will be having sleepless nights thinking about how to gear their business and their people going forward in a climate of relentless uncertainty as we face this new emerging recession. Given that we have faced two financial crises in the past 15 years, we are getting well weathered by the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) phenomenon, a term coined by the U.S. Army back in 1987 and is being experienced by companies in the past decade. We must accept that this environment of volatility is now the new “norm” in business and our economies. Are we ready for another round of battering? It is the author’s opinion that we need to start doing things a lot differently so that we are future-fit and quickly become resilient to the uncertainties of our new “norm”.

It is now more essential than ever before to stand back from our businesses, draw on all our expertise objectively, collaboratively with our teams and other stakeholders in tow to gain an understanding of what our business & life’s purpose truly is (because the two are broadly interchangeable).

When we think about purpose we rather think of it in a functional way, a box to be ticked on the strategy papers or companies manifesto that gets shelved and forgotten about until a financial year has run by, but this isn’t what purpose is all about and in a quick changing, disruptive world we need to be defining and refining our purpose and more-over living our purpose on a daily basis and at every level of the organization from CEO to cleaner.

At the heart of Simon Sinek’s book “Start with why” is the golden circle model which has the word “WHY” at its core. He states “by WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?” Can you answer these questions for yourself and your organization? It becomes so much more than about WHAT we do, when we explore these questions deeply we are forced to go inwards and make some serious reflections. Our true purpose is usually bigger than ourselves, it is evolutionary and visionary in its very essence. It is not simply about what will fulfill nor is it about profitability or business results, its is more about contribution and being of service both on a personal level as well as organisational. It is the legacy we will leave behind. The WHAT people will say about us after we are gone from this earth.

Establishing purpose is a valuable exercise for organisations to engage with in difficult times as we are forced to re-assess how our businesses will move forward. But instead of heavy mission statements that no one can barely recall once they’ve been carved out, it is important to keep purpose statements concise, light and easeful in their essence. The wording needs to be actionable, uplifting to both our thinking and our spirit. Its needs to reach out and connect us to something richer and more nourishing available to us as we navigate this uncertain time in the World. It should evoke emotion in all of us and a desire to be a better human being.

So what does having a clear purpose give you?

  1. Having purpose is like having a north star, it gives us a very clear sense of direction, a compass to follow. So that when we meet challenges it is possible to “get lost” down the rabbit hole of those challenges. When we live our purpose it calls us back to what’s important. It allows us to keep the focus where it needs to be.
  2. Purpose (and values) set the corporate culture. It sets the scene and the standard to which we hold ourselves and our team accountable. Every member is invested in purpose when it is lived and expressed as a culture.
  3. Purpose is inspirational. Look back over the covid crisis, the healthworkers, the bus drivers, the kitchen staff of hospitals and many more front line works were applauded for their contribution and dedication for doing work with high risk but they all knew they were doing it for a higher purpose, contributing their effort knowing that they played an important part of a bigger purpose.
  4. Purpose gives meaning to everything we do.
  5. Purpose is a collaborative process and in the process it allows each team member the opportunity to have their voice heard and be a part of something bigger. It encourages responsibility and a sense of community and ultimately a common and compelling striving journey for the group. It brings teams together.

Some examples of purpose statements that inspire me :

Telsa : To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
TED : Spread ideas.
Uber: We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.
Patagonia : Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Purpose statements must be engaging and connect all the stakeholders and staff in a common good mission. The words must conjure up feelings of inspiration and a willingness to do better so that we step up and take responsibility for building a better world through our organisation. This is no time-wasting exercise either. It is usually a very powerful exercise especially when we see purpose in action with the business leaders across the organisation navigating decision making and behaviours by its course. Likewise it is important to periodically check in on how the organisation is doing in living its purpose and where it could be doing more. Addressing this with honesty and candor and following through with action taking will only serve to further uplift the organisation.

A fine example of purpose in action comes from Frederic Laloux’s book “Reinventing organizations” in which he writes extensively about Buurtzorg, an organization in the Netherlands that changed the face of neighbourhood nursing services. There are many interesting facades to this organization and how it is run, but, central to its success is the purpose they’ve identified and operate by, which basically puts “humanity before bureaucracy”, setting the relationship between the community nurse and the client as top priority and quality care as well as patient care and attention as their primary endeavours. The model has been so successful that Buurtzorg was able to show 40% saving to the dutch national health care system and putting heart back in their business saw them become the market leader in its sector. Pretty inspiring!

In conclusion, given the uncertainty of our current environment right now it is the perfect time to re-calibrate our businesses and get them into a future-fit state. Furthermore, we need to draw on all the ideas and inputs of our people and open a discussion speaking directly to the issues at hand. All too often it is easy to focus and get stuck in the problems and the challenges but purpose shifts our brain onto another plane. A place where we metaphorically rise above the clouds and can see the horizon, the destination where we are heading for. Once we are able to engage with this place then we are able to resource at a higher level in a possibility frame of mind, where creativity and innovation are accessed, and it is this frame of mind we must engage with to craft our purpose and regenerate our organisation to be more resilient through our V.U.C.A. World.