It's time to move purpose from statement to story, from rhetoric to results. It's not as easy as it sounds, to make purpose systemic and not just a trend or passing fad. How can we make purpose come alive in our complex world where conflicting priorities - from personal aspirations, to professional impact, to organizational meaning - are the norm? We rush these days to conquer the actionable goal, the finish line, and the quarterly results; and yet, purpose transcends those concrete and stagnant progression markers.
The best way to describe purpose is as a collective journey towards our north star - which may sound like a crazy concept. But like any journey, we must embrace and heed past learnings and understand how the world has unfolded its glory for some while creating nearly insurmountable financial and social problems for others.
To help tackle the world's problems effectively we have to have a clear understanding of why we are here, what we are called to do, and how we're going to get there. To help in that journey, here are ten ways I believe we can advance purpose to the next level.
#1 Your purpose and core business have to be indelibly intertwined. Purpose is "why" you are in business and should be tied to "what" you want to accomplish through your business strategy. It represents the common destination that universally advances your organization. The "why" must engage a cross-generational stakeholder community that has increasing expectations of organizational societal impact, not just revenue generation. Any inconsistencies that cause the why and what to be unaligned will tarnish the notion of a purpose.
#2 Purpose should drive distinctive organizational behavior. What would happen if your company exited the market? Would anyone care? Or would you just be replaced by the next company? If your firm ceased to exist, you would want the marketplace and your stakeholders to feel a significant void because they needed what you were bringing to the table.
#3 Move from transactional to transcendental purpose. Transactions are daily, business-as-usual tasks. We individually and collectively get the job done through repetitious, siloed actions. These can be done in a professional manner but are habitual nonetheless. We need to support the transition from transaction to transcendental, surpassing ordinary thinking and embracing how each action has exceptional consequences in the lives of others and the organization at large.
#4 Connect people to purpose. Taking purpose to the next level means helping our people understand how every task they undertake affects lives and futures, thus humanizing our services.
#5 Legacy can be a link to your future but can also stall your purpose. A firm foundation and sense of history can be powerful. The challenge is to not rely solely on the foundation to carry you forward. The problems facing the world today are significantly different than they were 50 years or 100 years ago. Your history needs to be your guide, not the roadmap. Your ability to reinvent your purpose based on past experiences is imperative to meet the astronomical issues of the world today and to maintain your purpose's relevancy.
#6 Remember that your product is your purpose. From advising clients to manufacturing consumer goods, your purpose is to deliver a product or service that changes financial, social or environmental outcomes. What you do is who you are.
#7 Acknowledge the relationship between the global and the individual. The megatrends in play today - urbanization, scarcity of resources, shifts in economic power, technology disruption, and demographic change - are huge, all-encompassing issues. But at the core, they impact the daily lives of communities, families, and individuals. Purpose can help to draw the line from these universal issues to the personal implications. Understanding that relationship is essential.
#8 Take charge and address unmet needs and opportunities. Purpose-driven organizations address the big issues through complex problem solving, often in a highly dynamic context or an environment of significant uncertainty. They understand that the status quo equates to failure, not just a lack of progress. These organizations are driven by creating cultures that celebrate and reward innovation, creativity, and risk taking. They also know that one company cannot solve these complex issues and they therefore drive collaboration in the spirit of ultimate resolution versus competition.
#9 Millennials will not live without purpose...it's that simple. Millennials are obsessed with the "why" questions - they want to understand the meaning of their actions and direction. They question their place in organizations and the value of their role versus another. These probing questions will not stop, and we don't want them to stop, since they will bring fundamental change to business. These employees demand shared value - the point where profit can meet with societal benefits - and they will change the world.
#10 Storytelling is a powerful connector. Every colleague, client, customer and constituent has a story - a distinct story that flushes out how the why and what seamlessly stitch together. Stories remind us of what really matters. They connect personal history to the humanity of the work and the "once upon a time" to who we are now and who we will become. A story that is organic and genuine becomes something we can all share.
Purpose is simultaneously tangible and elusive. It presents an incredible challenge, but an even bigger opportunity. Purpose is why I go to work every day with enthusiasm and commitment, and why I believe that where my firm has been and where we're going is a meaningful journey. It's why I am focused on taking purpose to the next level.
Purpose@Work is a new series of discussions designed to explore how we can infuse a deep sense of purpose into our work - through our organizations, our people, and our impact in society.
How are you taking purpose to the next level in your workplace? Let us know at PurposePlusProfit@huffingtonpost.com or by tweeting with #PurposeAtWork.