The Power of Purpose

800x600xApollo-11-launches-from-Pad-39A-Kennedy-Space-Center-13-32-00-UTC-16-July-1969_jpg_pagespeed_ic_d-udV7Qj86Do you recall that story about President John F Kennedy and the janitor at the NASA Space Centre in the early 1960’s? Kennedy had made a declaration that the USA would put a man on the moon during that decade, and he had the will to make it happen. While at NASA, he asked a janitor what he was doing as he carried his mop and bucket around, and the janitor replied: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon Mr President.”

Establishing a Purpose for any organisation is essential; it answers the big question: “Why are we here?” It also gives everyone concerned a sense of belonging to something bigger and more important than any individual, whether the CEO or the cleaner. That something creates engagement, motivation, commitment, a willingness to go the extra mile. You could say it’s rocket fuel. The point about the janitor at NASA is that a clear sense of purpose transcends all hierarchy in an organisation. That janitor knew that his contribution was just as important as that of Neil Armstrong or Gene Kranz.

But how do you define that Purpose for your team, your company? First of all it’s worth investing the time for your leadership team to make your Purpose clear, because you want it to last, and you want it to be crystal clear to everyone.   Here are some suggested questions to help build a purpose statement.

  • Whom do we serve?
  • What do we provide?
  • Why does it matter?
  • When does it matter?
  • How do we know it matters?

Working recently with the management team of a renewable energy company, their purpose statement included “saving the planet”, “a legacy for our grandchildren”. They were inspiring.And Purpose is enduring. While Vision helps to steer the organisation’s way – responding to both internal and external change – while Values guide behaviour and expectations, and while Goals get ticked off the list, Purpose remains. John

With sustainability firmly on the agenda for 21st century businesses, companies like Unilever are leading the way in placing emphasis on ”triple bottom line reporting” of the 3 P’s, Profit, People and Planet. The 4th “P” which gives foundation to all of this is Purpose.

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