Is your purpose truly authentic?

April 25, 2023
Darryl Cooke

Executive Chairman

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Check your purpose – Is it truly authentic?

Purpose has rightly become a key focus for leaders keen to ensure their business is driven by more than just the pursuit of profit.

There’s good reason for this. Research shows that purpose-led companies achieve higher growth and productivity, have better workforce engagement and are more innovative and responsive to change.

People feel emotionally inspired, connected and loyal to these organisations and want to support their success.

However, in the rush to harness these benefits, it’s fair to say that the authenticity of some business’ vision and mission can sometimes be questionable.

Even with the best will in the world, purpose can become just a component of brand values and product propositions rather than a meaningful lodestar.

Purpose should be in an organisation’s DNA. It’s the very reason it exists and should run through everything it does.

Finely tuned BS detectors

Genuine purpose creates a halo effect where people understand and appreciate what a company stands for (or against), creating differentiation and cut through in a world full of noise.

But how often do you see a business’ purpose on their website and think that it doesn’t ‘sit right’?

When purpose is not grounded in the reality of what a firm does…or how it goes about its business, leaders leave themselves open to accusations of marketing BS, greenwashing, coat tailing and dishonesty.

Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder, and organisations will be judged by stakeholders whose cynicism, scepticism and distrust have been fuelled by years of businesses co-opting purpose for commercial gain.

A stated purpose must therefore be realistic, relevant and achievable to be viewed as authentic.

Align your purpose

It’s crucial leaders take time to genuinely understand their stakeholders.

Active listening is a key component in authenticity. If you focus only on how your business is expressing purpose, you’re not reacting to what others expect from you, and how that might be changing over time.

It’s much easier to align your purpose to customer, employee and community needs when you fully appreciate what they are.

Then its sensible to seek confirmation from those very stakeholders that your purpose is clear, relevant and realistic.

In my experience there are three key areas leaders can focus on to ensure their purpose remains authentic and understood:

  1. Engagement: Gain a deep understanding of what your purpose means to stakeholders and how they would like to see it realised and articulated. Create your own informal panel of independent-minded contacts who can provide regular perspective and influence.
  2. Evolution: A purpose which remains static or aligned to narrow issues can quickly become irrelevant if your business is constantly innovating and changing. Pay close attention to how trends are developing in areas relevant to your stakeholders and make sure your purpose evolves appropriately and consistently.
  3. Evaluation: Measure and report on your impact. Words are easy to say, but holding yourself accountable and showing exactly how you are fulfilling your purpose demonstrates integrity. Evidencing impact through data, third party endorsement and human stories is important to prove authenticity.

Leadership at all levels

The most authentic and successful purpose-driven businesses have woven their mission and values into the fabric of the organisation.

This means every team member shares the same pursuit of purpose and carries this through their actions.

PWC’s ‘Putting Purpose To Work’ survey found that although 79% of leaders agreed that purpose is central to business success, only 34% were using it as a guidepost for decision making and only a third were aligning recruitment strategy, employee evaluations and rewards with it.

Embedding purpose as a key driver of success means people are tasked to deliver it, are measured on their progress and leadership are seen to be using it to guide the business.

It’s this level of focus and commitment that will ensure purpose remains both authentic and responsive to the changing needs of the stakeholders we serve.

For more insights listen to the Inspiring Leadership Podcast here.