The Purpose Effect (2016) combines motivational psychology, organizational culture, and the pursuit of meaning to explore how shared purpose can change the world. What happens when company and employee goals align? How can we foster a culture where we pursue work that really has an impact? This deep-dive is your guide to finding the sweet spot of shared purpose.
Introduction: Discover how to harness the power of purpose in your workplace.
In every modern workplace, a crucial question will inevitably emerge: why are we truly here? While many employees clock in and out, chasing paychecks or climbing the corporate ladder, a deeper, more profound force is reshaping the dynamics of the workplace – purpose.
For leaders, instilling the work teams and individuals do with meaning requires an intricate balance between personal, organizational, and role purpose. But when this balance is struck, organizations have the potential to radically change people’s lives and careers, while benefiting the broader community.
So, how do leaders infuse purpose in the workplace to achieve these outcomes?
In a world driven by metrics and bottom lines, understanding and embracing purpose can be a game-changer, turning mere occupations into vocations, and remodel organizations from profit-chasing entities into catalysts of societal impact.
In this Blink, you’ll discover how you can transform your workplace by harnessing the power of purpose. Let’s dive in and find out how purpose can reshape work, leadership and life itself.
The purpose of purpose
Why do the people in an organization actually do their jobs? Are they driven by profits? Do they want to gain more power in the company? Do they believe that by doing their work, they’re impacting the world in a meaningful way?
Purpose goes beyond a mere mission statement or maximizing profits. It is a higher calling that aims to improve society and benefit all stakeholders. For purpose to be fully realized, three levels must align: personal purpose, organizational purpose, and role purpose. This alignment creates a “sweet spot,” where employees find meaning in their work.
Leaders focused solely on capital gains and share price risk neglecting the needs of other stakeholders, like employees. True purpose upholds an organization’s mission to benefit society, not solely to preserve hierarchy or financial gain.
Research by Deloitte LLP shows that a culture of purpose boosts confidence, growth, and financial performance. Employees who sense purpose in their organization feel committed to providing top-quality products and services. By believing in the purpose of their organization, they became intrinsically motivated to fulfill their role.
Employees who don’t sense purpose in their organization focus more on financials, KPIs, and getting through the working week. While 73 percent of the purpose-driven group in the Deloitte study felt engaged with their work, only 23 percent of the non-purpose group felt the same. Performance, job, and general satisfaction in this group also dropped significantly. So, instilling purpose in the workplace makes good business sense.
But purpose doesn’t spontaneously appear. It must be cultivated. Leaders shouldn’t view it as an “us versus them” dynamic, where leaders dictate purpose to employees. Rather, team members should be considered both leaders and followers; they provide insight that informs organizational purpose, and take action to fulfill it.
Leaders who model purpose and vulnerability themselves foster it in their teams. With the courage to look beyond short-term gains, leaders can develop purpose-driven organizations where employees find meaning and see their work as valuable.
Aligning purpose isn’t always easy. But the consequences of a lack of purpose can cause ongoing friction in the workplace that impacts performance on all levels.
If you’re unsure whether or not your organization suffers from misaligned – or a lack of – purpose, there are five signs you can look for. When there’s a mismatch between an organization and the people within it, you’ll notice disputes over remuneration, profit, role, power, and performance. Let’s take a closer look at why.
We’ve known for a long time now that increasing pay doesn’t necessarily lead to increased happiness and engagement. While fair compensation provides the means to pursue purpose, money itself is not purposeful. Employees solely motivated by pay may clash with organizations seeking purpose-driven team members. And similarly, organizations that don’t provide adequate wages don’t allow employees to live meaningfully.
A company pursuing profit above all else also breeds mismatch. Though attitudes are shifting, many corporate systems still prioritize profits over collective purpose. But profit should enable purpose, not eclipse it. Overemphasis on financials often exploits people and breeds dissatisfaction. No one is going to feel as though their job is meaningful, or their work worthwhile, when they’re only there to line shareholders’ pockets.
In terms of roles, meaning and value are crucial. One UK study showed that 49 percent of workers are so dissatisfied with their role that they believe their career choice was a mistake. It’s not just about working for the right company, but also being in the right position. Communication about role expectations, scope, and broader function are all incredibly important when it comes to a sense of purpose.
Hierarchies that stifle growth and contribution create employee detachment. Nortel, a telecommunications company, was one of the largest organizations listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange before its failure in 2009. When researchers looked into Nortel’s decline, they found that employee culture and trust had been slowly eroding. Once a vibrant and collaborative culture, Nortel had evolved as it grew into an environment where power had crushed purpose. That’s because optimal productivity arises from collaboration, not control.
Performance evaluation strategies also play a role in misaligning organizational and employee purpose. According to some studies, only 5 percent of individuals participating in performance management practices are satisfied with the process. The classic failure is metric-based performance reviews, and yearly reviews that focus on seemingly random bonuses, rather than feedback. Evaluations should fuel development through ongoing guidance, not rigid annual grading.
Cultivating an engaged workforce requires addressing mismatches between personal, organizational, and role purposes. Leaders must elevate collective purpose over profit. With trust, autonomy, and meaning permeating the organization, individuals can use their talents to advance shared goals. For leaders to master purpose, they must create systems where people are empowered to pursue the collective mission.
Personal purpose is a journey that drives how satisfied someone is with their life and job. There are three ways that someone on this journey can discover their own personal purpose. We’re going to look at each of these in three stages in turn. However, you and your team members might return to different stages at different times, as you change and grow.
First, personal purpose begins with continuous development. Team members should ask themselves, “What am I doing to evolve myself?” Seeking new experiences, knowledge, and skills expands one’s potential. Leaders must nurture curiosity and growth mindsets in their teams to support the pursuit of personal purpose.
Next comes defining one’s identity and situation to gain clarity. Understanding who you are, and your strengths and values, allows you to course correct towards fulfillment. Crafting a personal purpose statement will help crystallize your understanding about who you will become and what you will represent. Revisit this touchstone periodically, as your sense of purpose evolves.
Finally, deciding how to act and operate is crucial for living with purpose. Will you choose truth or falsehood, openness or intolerance? Our interactions with others demonstrate who we are becoming. Unless they’re expressed through decisions and deeds, personal growth and self-definition are hollow.
Personal purpose requires continuous development to expand potential, define an evolving identity and direction, and decide how to live your values through action. By regularly asking, “What am I doing to evolve?”, “Who am I?”, and “How will I operate?”, team members can clarify their values and live them fully.
Leaders should foster reflection and growth to help individuals align their unique talents and passions with the organization’s shared mission. When personal purpose is activated, people transform individually and collectively.
Organizational purpose should go beyond profits to create value for all stakeholders. To design an organizational purpose, you can use the DEEDS model. DEEDS is an acronym that stands for: Delight, Engagement, Ethics, Delivery, and Service. Let’s look at each aspect of it now.
Delight your customers by promoting worthwhile products and services that improve lives. Companies like IKEA put delighting the customer first, while also engaging employees around their mission to “create a better everyday life.”
Your team is one of the most important parts of your organization, and engaging them is an essential part of creating purpose. Work becomes meaningful when it aligns with human values and goals. Enable your team to grow so they can serve society. Research confirms that leadership’s care for employee wellbeing boosts engagement. Be a coach and role model, not just a director. Linking organizational purpose to personal growth creates the sweet spot where individuals and companies thrive together.
Be ethical within society, not exploitative. Seek to contribute, not just make money. The most admired companies adopt a multi-stakeholder approach focused on collective benefit, rather than shareholders alone. They operate responsibly, which then attracts top talent and customers. This means that ethics and social responsibility boost the bottom line long-term.
Deliver fair practices in compensation, performance management, and recognition. Individual growth matters more than rigid, metrics-based yearly reviews. Employees must see the organization’s higher purpose reflected in how they’re treated. Fairness and equity are crucial.
Serve all stakeholders – employees, community, and society – not just shareholders. Build a collaborative, human-centered culture focused on developing potential. Enable people to fulfill personal purpose, while advancing the organization’s.
Shared purpose activates engagement and innovation. The more an organization focuses solely on driving profits, the more purpose drains away. Leaders must transition from control to empowerment; self-interest to collective uplift; and viewing people as expenses to seeing them as partners.
As a leader, you must assess your organization’s current culture honestly. Then, lead the change: recognize achievements, discuss purpose openly, and collaborate cross-functionally. When employees feel valued and aligned to a mission that matters, they’ll bring passion, dedication and ingenuity, to realize that vision.
In today’s complex world, tapping into collective intelligence helps organizations adapt and excel. Organizational purpose, centered on human potential and ethical business, allows this. Ultimately, it fulfills the organization’s role in society, providing livelihoods, identity, and impact.
There are three main mindsets people adopt at work: job, career, and purpose.
In the job mindset, work is just a paycheck. This can be fine temporarily, but chronic job mindset breeds disengagement. While every job involves a few unrewarding tasks, ensure that this mindset doesn’t become permanent due to misalignment between your purpose and the organization’s.
The career mindset seeks status through titles, team size and power. It prioritizes self over others, damaging workplace culture in the process. Career mindset for development is fine, but avoid the selfish pursuit of advancement at any cost.
A role feels ideal when it unlocks the purpose mindset, by aligning with your values to help people and society. In the purpose mindset, work is meaningful, engaging, and fulfills your personal purpose. Achieving this mindset requires continuous self-discovery to expand your potential, as well as clarity of direction. Reflect on your strengths, values, and goals. Then seek roles and organizations that align with them.
Organizations enable the purpose mindset when their culture and systems reflect ethics and collective benefit. Leaders need to take an active role in propagating this mindset.
Start by modeling purpose, fostering employee growth, and recognizing achievements that advance the organization’s mission. In addition to this, empower individuals with the autonomy to contribute their full insights and talents.
Develop self awareness too. Evaluate whether your time is spent in the purpose mindset, versus the job or career mindsets. Stay focused on growth, ethics and service to others, even if it’s uncomfortable sometimes.
Commit to nurturing purpose, both inside and outside work. Alignment between personal, organizational, and role purpose isn’t a destination but an ongoing journey.
This investment in your team and yourself will be worth it. With conscious cultivation, the purpose mindset makes work uplifting, rather than merely transactional.
The sweet spot
Reaching the sweet spot where personal, organizational, and role purpose align requires continuous effort as our sense of purpose evolves. Personal purpose must be the top priority, nourished through constant development, self-reflection, and living one’s values daily.
To support your development of it, begin by writing a personal “declaration of purpose.” This is a succinct statement of who you are, what you represent, and how you’ll operate each day. This touchstone provides direction when purpose shifts. Update it as you grow.
If you’re looking to instill purpose in your organization, craft an organizational declaration of purpose that inspires employees, while meeting societal needs. This statement should be relatable to both customers and staff, including leaders.
As a leader, role model serving all stakeholders – customers, employees, the community, and society more broadly. This creates a collaborative culture where shared goals unite people. Delight customers by prioritizing their needs. Measure satisfaction regularly, and identify ways to improve based on feedback.
Promote an engaging workplace of trust and autonomy. Provide opportunities for employees to develop purpose through diverse roles, volunteering, and networking. Ensure they feel heard and valued, and make space for self-reflection.
Work with other leaders to ensure performance practices fuel development through frequent feedback and coaching, rather than rigid evaluations. Keep in mind that growth is not a destination but the journey itself.
By elevating people above profits, and leading with humility, organizations can unlock creativity, meaning and joy. When purpose is nurtured individually and collectively, teams drive growth through purpose. This is the true sweet spot.
Rediscovering our “why” – on both personal and professional levels – provides the foundation of purpose.
When an individual’s purpose aligns with their employer’s, and the organization itself has a values-based purpose that speaks to that individual, everyone benefits: the business, employees, and the community.
Financial gains and titles are ephemeral motivators that don’t support unilateral high performance. It is true purpose that fosters engagement, nurtures innovation, and engenders loyalty. But this alignment isn’t serendipitous; it requires introspection, commitment, and collaborative effort.
Those willing to embark on a transformative journey to true purpose will motivate and inspire teams, and create lasting organizational change. The impact is profound; when employees and leaders synchronize their purpose, they transcend traditional metrics, forging organizations that enrich society holistically.
About the Author
Management, Leadership, Career Success
I have read the book The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role, and Your Organization by Dan Pontefract and here is my summary and review:
The book is about how to find and align your personal, role, and organizational purpose to achieve a sense of meaning and fulfillment in your work. The author defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” He argues that when people have a clear and compelling purpose, they are more engaged, productive, and happy. He also claims that when organizations have a purpose that serves all stakeholders, they are more innovative, profitable, and sustainable.
The author introduces the concept of the “sweet spot,” which is the intersection of the three categories of purpose: personal, role, and organizational. He explains that personal purpose is your reason for being, role purpose is your contribution to your organization, and organizational purpose is your organization’s reason for existing. He suggests that finding the sweet spot requires defining and deciding your purpose in each category, aligning them with each other, and delivering on them through your actions.
The author provides a framework called DEEDS to help you achieve the sweet spot. DEEDS stands for:
- Discover: Identify your personal purpose by reflecting on your passions, values, strengths, and goals.
- Engage: Connect your personal purpose with your role purpose by understanding how you can add value to your organization and its stakeholders.
- Empower: Align your role purpose with your organizational purpose by ensuring that your organization has a clear and compelling vision, mission, and values that serve all stakeholders.
- Develop: Grow your personal, role, and organizational purpose by continuously learning, improving, and adapting to changing circumstances.
- Serve: Demonstrate your personal, role, and organizational purpose by acting ethically, responsibly, and collaboratively.
The author also shares stories and examples of individuals and organizations that have found or lost their sweet spot, such as Céline Schillinger from Sanofi Pasteur, Mana Ionescu from Lightspan Digital, Market Basket, Etsy, Unilever, and others. He offers practical tips and tools to help you apply the DEEDS framework in your own context.
I found the book to be inspiring, insightful, and useful. The author writes in a clear and engaging style that draws you into his arguments and stories. He combines research, experience, and anecdotes to support his points and illustrate his concepts. He also challenges you to reflect on your own purpose and how it relates to your work.
The book’s main strength is its holistic approach to purpose. The author does not limit his discussion to personal or organizational purpose, but shows how they are interrelated and interdependent. He also does not present purpose as a fixed or static concept, but as a dynamic and evolving one that requires constant attention and action. He acknowledges the challenges and barriers that may prevent you from finding or aligning your purpose, such as lack of autonomy, trust, or support from your organization or manager. He offers realistic and actionable solutions to overcome them.
The book’s main weakness is its lack of depth in some areas. The author covers a lot of ground in a relatively short book (288 pages), which means that some topics are not explored in detail or with sufficient evidence. For example, he does not provide much data or analysis on the impact of purpose on performance or well-being. He also does not address some potential criticisms or limitations of his framework, such as how to deal with conflicting or competing purposes among different stakeholders or situations.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to find more meaning and fulfillment in their work. The book will help you discover your personal purpose, engage with your role purpose, empower yourself and others with your organizational purpose, develop your skills and capabilities for delivering on your purpose, and serve all stakeholders with integrity and compassion. The book will also help you create a positive impact on yourself, your organization, and society at large.