Companies that have defined a values-based core purpose for their existence and pursue strategies aligned with that raison d’être can gain many advantages: greater focus, more engaged employees, more loyal customers, and better financial performance.1
It’s no wonder that developing a purpose statement is now on many business leaders’ agendas — especially as employees increasingly question their organization’s impact on communities and the planet.2 But if companies do little else with the statement than post it on their website, there’s little likelihood that it will confer much benefit.
Purpose is not a lever that can be pulled; rather, as our research has confirmed, it exerts its power as a deeply held commitment that is shared throughout an organization and motivates action. The identity of the organization, its role, and the reasons why that role is meaningful and valuable all flow from that shared commitment.3 Purpose makes a difference in organizations only when it changes the way people operate.4
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For purpose to have a transforming and lasting impact, leaders need a deliberate, sustained approach to identifying, operationalizing, and measuring it. Our earlier research identified a set of key elements for defining and developing a solid purpose. We have subsequently developed a set of processes we call the Purpose Strength Framework. (See the “Purpose Strength Framework.”) Here, we’ll explain how companies can use it to turn intention into consistent action that yields the benefits of being a purpose-driven organization.
1. R. Henderson, “Innovation in the 21st Century: Architectural Change, Purpose, and the Challenges of Our Time,” Management Science 67, no. 9 (September 2021): 5479-5488; and C. Gartenberg, A. Prat, and G. Serafeim, “Corporate Purpose and Financial Performance,” Organization Science 30, no. 1 (January-February 2019): 1-18.
2. F. Ruiz-Pérez, Á. Lleó, M. Ormazábal, et al., “Strengthening Employee Sustainable Behaviors Through Purpose Implementation: An Empirical Approach With OCBs,” SSRN, March 18, 2021, https://papers.ssrn.com.
3. D. van Knippenberg, “Meaning-Based Leadership,” Organizational Psychology Review 10, no. 1 (February 2020): 6-28.
4. A. White, B. Yakis-Douglas, H. Helanummi-Cole, et al., “Purpose-Led Organization: ‘Saint Antony’ Reflects on the Idea of Organizational Purpose, in Principle and Practice,” Journal of Management Inquiry 26, no. 1 (January 2017): 101-107.
5. M.P. Florez-Jimenez, A.F. Muñoz-Villamizar, and Á. Lleó, “Exploring the Relationship Between Sustainability, Resilience, and Purpose in the Context of Corporations: A Comprehensive Literature Review,” SSRN, Oct. 18, 2021, https://papers.ssrn.com.
6. C. Rey and M. Bastons, “Three Dimensions of Effective Mission Implementation,” Long Range Planning 51, no. 4 (August 2018): 580-585.
7. Á. Lleó, M. Bastons, C. Rey, et al., “Purpose Implementation: Conceptualization and Measurement,” Sustainability 13, no. 4 (2021): 1-18.
8. M.E. Porter and M.R. Kramer, “Creating Shared Value,” in “Managing Sustainable Business: An Executive Education Case and Textbook,” eds. G.G. Lenssen and N.C. Smith (Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media, 2019), 323-346.
9. A.C. Edmondson, “The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth” (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2019).
10. P. Cardona and C. Rey, “Management by Missions: Connecting People to Strategy Through Purpose” (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022).