2nd Nov 2020
3 Min Read

World Changers – Explore the trend. Why do we peddle purpose?

Kate Went
Kate Went
Strategy

When we released our inaugural World Changers report at the beginning of 2020, the world was poised on the brink of a major shift we could never have predicted. But many of the trends we forecasted have only accelerated in the face of this year’s challenges.

For our explore the trend series, I asked lead consultant Lu McKay why we peddle purpose, how surfacing common goals is the foundation of employee engagement and why purpose could be our path through the pandemic.

Lu, why did you choose to focus on purpose?

Purpose is powerful. As well as uniting a workforce around a set of shared goals and aspirations, it also gives the individual a strong sense of autonomy – they see and understand their place in the bigger picture. When we redirect the focus from day-to-day tasks to something more aspirational, purpose can transform the mundane into momentous, or at least meaningful.

We’ve seen it spill out into the wider consciousness this year. As businesses adjusted to meet the demands of the pandemic, supermarket colleagues went from simply stocking shelves to ‘feeding the nation’. A new motivation gave the most routine of tasks a new sense of vital importance. But true and effective workplace purpose is more long-term, deeper and embedded than our response to a particular event. It weaves holistically through everything we do, pushing us collectively towards where we want to go.

Back when you wrote your piece, there was an optimistic sense that employees seeking more meaningful work had more options than ever. What impact has the pandemic had on this?

As the economic downturn gets its claws into the job market, compromise can make us feel that people should be grateful for any job they can get and that employers don’t have to make that much effort when it comes to talent attraction. While there is an element of needs must, this is a real opportunity for organisations to embrace the power of purpose.

This year has demonstrated how vital it is for businesses to be agile. Organisations that did well during the pandemic were the ones able to adapt quickly. That can’t happen without being able to rally the troops. What makes the process of pivoting easier is a purpose-led mindset. If everyone fully understands, and gets behind, why you exist as an organisation and what you’re here to achieve, the nitty gritty of how you achieve it is secondary. When everyone is seeking the same outcome, it paves the way for greater innovation and faster solutions.

How have you seen the search for purpose play out during the pandemic?

Across the world, 2020 has been a huge eye opener, both personally and professionally. As our lifestyles changed, the reset provided space to look at our life choices and question what we really want to be spending our time doing. We’re seeing people choosing to retrain, going back into education or looking at vocational options.

No longer tied geographically, people are broadening the horizons of their careers and taking a more critical look at whether their organisations align to their own ideals. A year of upheaval, activism and painful growth has pushed us to seek clarity on our own purpose and it’s also shown us the good, bad and ugly sides of organisations.

While purpose isn’t necessarily about how a business reacts to political or social movements, it’s becoming more and more important that they are transparent about what they stand for and what they exist to achieve.

What should leaders be thinking about when it comes to purpose as we go forward into 2021?

Purpose is an intrinsic motivator and we have to harness it to pull ourselves through the pandemic. The need to adapt will continue in the coming months and organisations will be asking their people to be open to that.

Leaders need to consider how they create energy around that challenge.

They need to question if their culture truly supports and rewards the dynamic behaviours needed to meet these demands, and if not, how they can take the right steps towards becoming a purpose-led workplace.

Discover this and nine other World Changers topics in our 2020 World Changers report.

Want to surface and harness the power of purpose in your organisation?

Download the guide.

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