When my purpose isn't yours!

In this fast-changing world, many organisations are focussing on more than making a profit. Global multinationals from Ikea to Unilever are exploring and declaring their reason to exist as the major driver for growth. Many of the most promising start-ups are also being built on what’s currently identified as ‘purpose’.

A clear purpose gives employees direction; it provides the framework for defining values, behaviour, organisational strategy and workforce structures. As individuals, so many of us are in the pursuit of life fulfilment, growth and happiness. We are reading, watching and attending conferences and workshops, so many of which focus on achieving fulfilment. Many of these activities are framed as opportunities to engage with our 'why' - our purpose. We look to find our ‘why’, to how to craft our own personal purpose statement. It’s evident that it’s not just companies that have ‘vision and purpose’ – their employees do too!

Meaning matters – and it doesn’t discrimiate

In their book. ‘Primed to Perform’, Lyndsay McGregor and Neel Doshi talk about Purpose as one of the two top human motivators. This is not organisational purpose, but individual purpose.

Increasingly we find that motivation in

our working lives is driven by purpose.

For many organisations, this is fantastic news as we are in an increasingly socially responsible, community-minded economic environment. People like to make a difference with something that matters to them. So if your organisation aligns to that, you have clear and immediate shared purpose.

Over the past 12 months, we have asked hundreds of people to choose the top five things that matter most to them at work. Of the 500-plus people that have participated, more than half choose ‘Making a Difference’ as one of their top five.

Over many years I’ve been asked how to lead younger generations. First it was Gen Y, then Gen Z, now it’s ‘Millennials’. For some employers who may identify as Generation X or Baby Boomers, this his cohort is apparently entitled, lazy and too focused on money!

Numerous studies reveal something quite different; meaningful work is vitally important for young people.

In fact it doesn’t discriminate by generation, gender or any other stereotype. People do their best work when they believe in it!

In a perfect world, my purpose is a perfect match with that of the company I work for. Take one of my team members – her purpose is family. And a member of her family has some special needs. Working for an organisation that also believes in flexibility and supporting those with difference means that her purpose and mine align beautifully. And you see it every day in the outcomes achieved for our clients.

The imperfect match

It’s not a perfect world (yet), so what about the many people who have a passion for making a difference in a particular area that aligns fully with one part of an organisation’s purpose, but not another. I see countless examples. Take the nurse who is absolutely passionate about patient care, but is pulled away from her role as carer to attend meetings, to do paperwork, attend training not related to care. She begins to resent her employer. Her employer has a publicly stated ‘purpose’ that they exist to provide excellent patient care. At a psychological level, our nurse she sees these two needs as being at odds; it causes a situation called ‘cognitive dissonance’. Her brain is literally struggling to come to terms with two parts of her job that seem at odds. This causes discomfort, frustration, emotion and ultimately will lead to to some kind of impact in the workplace – increased stress, lower productivity, increased flight risk.

Currently Culturise is working with some highly skilled scientists. These people have committed themselves to a life of making a difference in their area of research. Their reality: to make that difference, they need to be employed by an organisation. Their employer requires them to be part of broader operational activities. The purpose of the organisation might be to excel in science-based research, though the reality of being a researcher in a highly regulated environment is that the organisation requires plenty of what may be seen as ‘non-core’ work from its researchers, including report preparation, meeting attendance, drills and training and even maybe a high amount of public interaction in order to share and promote the work of the organisation – a key factor in generating revenue.

Paperworking over the cracks

Imagine a teacher who is passionate about teaching children. He’s been doing this for many years and has a wonderful reputation. As our world continues to change at an increasing rate, curriculum changes, his employer requires an increasing degree of administration and reporting, often demanding the use of technology that may or not be well supported or of adequate quality. This teacher feels disempowered. In the system’s attempt to gain consistency, our teacher feels that his purpose to make a difference to young lives is watered down.

In all of these situations, the employer faces a similar risk in the event their organisational purpose is no longer completely aligned with that of the employee. Employee morale can be affected, productivity, and retention are compromised and importantly, the wellbeing of employees is impacted which can cause significant risk to safety, emotionally and physically.

It is imperative that we find a way for employees to pursue and experience their version of ‘why’ it matters to support the full purpose of their organisation. There’s not a quick fix for this, but there is a clear path. And that path requires a collaborative approach. It’s about listening and sharing. This needs to be done within a clear framework that leaves employees with a reason to support the organisational purpose fully – without losing individuality or that important – and often passionate – connection to purpose. The days of expecting people to give 100% because they are ‘lucky to have a job’ are gone.

Try asking a team member what their purpose is. You might just be surprised at the connection you create! If you’d like to hear more about the very practical and ‘purposeful’ tools that Culturise can provide to help, e-mail us at

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