Many organisations and leaders claim they have purpose and vision. Or else they seek it. What are the alternatives to finding a higher, meaningful motivation? From Jean-Sébastien Simon, High Performance Coach and Trainer in Conscious Business at ESSEC Business School
Purpose: Keys to finding meaning and triggering the change. By Jean-Sébastien Simon
In his famous talk “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek, the motivational-speaker and leadership guru, eloquently posed that highly successful companies have a very clear sense of Purpose. As he puts it:
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
The question of Purpose is central today. Millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025, yet today, only 29% of them are engaged (source). The younger generations (i-Gen) will be entering the workforce soon after that, and they are all desperately searching for Meaning, Inspiration, and Purpose. Older generations are feeling this craving for deeper meaning too, rather than simply finding stability in their work.
Purpose in meaning and change: Purpose under the lens
Purpose allows individuals in the organization to deploy their efforts and talents. Purpose is tied to finding meaning in one’s work and life. The Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, after his harsh experience of living for a total of three years in four different concentration camps, observed that the inmates who kept their hope up in the most horrendous conditions were those who had a reason to live for. He later founded logotherapy, considered as the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy after Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology (source). Frankl explained how finding meaning in one’s life enables humans to transcend suffering and challenging circumstances.
In the 1960s, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow described this process well in his famous hierarchy of needs, where purpose can be found in the top two needs of Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence.
Moreover, Robert Dilts and Gregory Bateson, other researchers in the field of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), introduced a similar idea in the form of their Pyramid of Logical Levels – a model for personal and systemic change. The apex of the pyramid – Vision/Purpose – has a direct impact of change on the secondary level, that of Identity.
This is the reason Why people do what they do. That is the ultimate source of motivation. When people reach this level, they don’t have to “get motivated.” They will do what it takes to get the job done. Leaders who can inspire from this level will have cohorts of followers for the mission.
The classic great leaders we think about (Gandhi, Martin Luther-King, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and others) all came from this place of Higher Purpose. In the most industrialised countries, where most of the material needs are met, self-actualization and self-transcendence become the most desirable needs for individuals. In emerging economies, purpose can still be found in helping the fulfilment of other layers of the pyramid (such as in Base of the Pyramid approaches for instance).
Food for thought:
The Purpose of an organization is usually defined in their Vision and Mission, from which the Strategy is derived and then implemented. In newer forms of organizations such as Teal Organizations (as described by Frédéric Laloux, in Reinventing Organizations, 2014), the Purpose is Evolutionary, which means it can change over time. The role of the employees is to listen and be in tune with what is asked of them in the moment. Laloux compares these organizations to a living organism, where each cell can sense what is most needed in the moment, and send a signal to other cells to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
In the natural world, trees have been proven to release certain chemicals in the air and through their root-system when animals such as deer started to chew off the bark, and other trees in the vicinity started to develop a bitter taste that served as a repellent to these predators.
It’s in the bhag
In Conscious Business, once the Purpose becomes clearer, various approaches to moving forward can be used. The traditional goal setting methods can be used, and innovative approaches as well, such as the BHAG method, described by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” (2005).
BHAG stands for: “Big Hairy Audacious Goals”. They allow for people to feel motivated, to commit, and to feel that their values are met by pursuing that goal. For instance, one of my clients wanted to create conscious communities promoting and developing afforestation and reforestation in 20+ countries in the world. As a coach, I proposed a BHAG of raising 200 million dollars to accomplish that mission. An invitation for coaches and leaders in the Conscious Business world is to give your clients and teams a BHAG that will stimulate their growth.
Here are six questions to check if your BHAG is effective:
- Does it stimulate forward progress?
- Does it create momentum?
- Does it get people going?
- Does it get people’s juices flowing?
- Do they find it stimulating, exciting, and adventurous?
- Are they willing to throw their creative talents and human energies into it?
In Conscious Business, a BHAG can be used as a target in a game in which it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you reach that goal or not, at the deadline or two years later. This approach is contrary to the classic SMART goal setting, where goals are clearly set, in an unambiguous way, and are the basis of further follow up. According to BHAG instead, a goal is a place to come from, not a place to go to.
There is a concern in most corporations operating from conventional paradigms: conscientious employees with high ethical intelligence and awareness who are craving for Purpose and fulfilment can often find themselves compromising on their values to avoid “rocking the boat.” They often find a gap between the Corporate Vision and their own aspirations, or between what the company announces (the nice Corporate Values displayed on the website and in the company’s lobby), and the actual actions taken by employees and management at different levels of the organization.
In Teal Organizations instead, the Purpose is commonly shared and co-created by all employees, through specific Processes that allow employees to be truly empowered and participate actively in the life and decisions of the organization. We will explain some of these Processes in the final article of this series.
Purpose as a Driving Force
In Conscious Organizations, Purpose does not become something to aspire to. It becomes the place from which people operate to make decisions, design new products and services, and interact with the different stakeholders. Purpose becomes the driving force for business. How is that possible? Is it an ideal or have organizations already done this? You will discover more in the next feature of our series of articles on Conscious Business.
Laloux, F. (2016). Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker.
THIS SERIES OF EIGHT FEATURES ON CONSCIOUS BUSINESS CAN BE FOLLOWED WEEKLY FROM SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2021 VIA COBS INSIGHTS.
- Link up with Jean-Sébastien Simon via LinkedIn
- View Fred Kofman”s book, Conscious business: How to build value through values
- Read the first in this series of articles Moving with and Beyond CSR: The 6 Ps of Conscious Business followed Conscious Business: A new frontier in view
- Discover ESSEC Business School and apply to follow a degree.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
- Website: www.council-business-society.org
- Twitter: @The_CoBS
- LinkedIn: the-council-on-business-&-society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
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