the impact of purpose in an organization

THE IMPACT OF PURPOSE IN AN ORGANIZATION

According to dictionary.com, purpose is the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc. 

Purpose is one of those words that have been classified as “buzz” or “fuzzy” words. Most people think it’s useless or doesn’t matter anymore but fact have shown over and over that the human mind just cannot live without a sense of purpose.

It’s scary that most business owners overlook the importance of purpose in an organization.

An interactive pool done by Harris showed that only 37% of employees knew where their company was going and why, this means that a whooping two-third of employees in the company has no clue about the company’s purpose or long-range intentions.

JUST HOW IMPORTANT IS PURPOSE?

In the book Executing your strategy, Mark Morgan, Raymond E. Levitt and William Malek made a good argument on why having a clear and direct purpose is very important in every business. He talked about how having a well-defined purpose may just be the “extra” your employees need to be extraordinary and how people can withstand enormously negative situation if they have a strong sense of purpose.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that devastated a wide area of the U.S golf coast, the New Orleans police chief made a statement saying that his organization swore to serve and protect the people and that they will continue to do so no matter the circumstances. His purpose was clearly stated “to serve and protect”, and serve and protect they really did.

Most of the officers stayed back to do search and rescue missions even when their very lives were at stake, they had limited resources, bad water, no hospitals or ambulances, no power, insufficient assistance from the government, direct attacks from those they were trying to save. In short the situation was not in any way favorable and they had the choice of leaving and saving their lives. But most of them stayed and the driving force behind their decisions was purpose.

When circumstances become extreme in a business because of the difficulty of competing in a global marketplace, when overtime becomes necessary for long periods of time, when extraordinary effort is needed; a clear sense of purpose is what keeps people going. A strong sense of purpose actually helps reduce stress of the overworked because it helps you separate the unimportant task from the ones that actually makes the company grows.

To support the author’s argument, Austrian neurologist and psychotherapists, Viktor Frankl, observed in a WWII concentration camp how purpose can actually be a matter of death and life. In the book, Man’s search for meaning,”  he said “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He talked about how the difference between living and dying in a war camp can be having a purpose to stay alive, family, friends etc. he said those who didn’t have a purpose to live ended up dying out flat or suicide by running into the electrocuted fence of the prison yard.

Even in more mundane circumstances and even in the most routine existences, people need a connection to purpose. The decision people and organization make about where, how and why to invest their energy all stem from this need. Frankl also stated two major concepts that are critical to leading organization.

  1. People have an unassailable ability to choose their response to any given set of circumstances.
  2. When people lose their connection to purpose, they die.

HOW TO KNOW THE CURRENT PURPOSE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION.

There is a simple test to check what the purpose/ identity of your organization is –

Ask people to fill the blank space in this statement;

“the —————————- organization is a/an ————————– organization”.

If your answer is consistent with what you intended the company to be, then you are on the right part, if not then adjustments should be made and a clear purpose should be stated. And it has been noticed that purposes that help the good of humanity in one way or the other tend to make people more motivated and willing to keep on even when things get tough.

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