To really get the best out of your people and be the best organisation you can be, you need to give your people a compelling reason to work for you, beyond simply earning money.
Your core purpose is not about what you do or how you do it, your core purpose is why you choose to be part of this business and it defines the difference you want to make in the world. Together with your Big Hairy Audacious GoalTM and Core Values your Core Purpose forms the long term vision that you have for your organisation.
Studies show that employees who are aligned to your core purpose are three times more likely to stay with you and they report higher job satisfaction.
With many organisations the founder’s story contains the essence of the core purpose that remains with an organisation throughout it’s life. Here’s a classic: Yvon Chouinard started Patagonia to make climbing equipment that was more protective of the mountains he loved to climb. By replacing pitons, the metal spikes that were damaging rock walls, climbers were able to leave less destruction of the environment they loved.
"The pitons caused permanent damage to the rockwall,” Yvon explained, “For climbers, it was like religion — like they were messing up their own church.”
Patagonia’s new style equipment protected the rock and increased sales. The big 'a-ha' was that you could do something good for the environment that was also good for your business. That was a seminal lesson for Yvon. Patagonia’s Core Purpose became to make the best product, but do it with no unnecessary harm and to use business to positively respond to various environmental crisis.
Nowadays Patagonia uses 100% organic cotton in their garments and they have attracted some powerful PR with their Common Threads Initiative that you see here.
They want to encourage the repair, recycling and resale of their garments, they even took a full page advert in the New York Times with the tagline: don't buy this jacket, unless you really need it. This environmental protection continues to align with their original reason for existing
The experience of Yvon Chouinard has driven “Why” Patagonia exists for six decades and it rings true in their mission statement below.
“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
I have seen the difference that can be made by aligning people to an organisation’s core purpose in hundreds of organisations that I’ve had the privilege of working with. But I recently had an experience that made me think about core purpose even more deeply.
This week I happened to be in my home town of Cirencester in the UK visiting family. I don’t get back that often these days and it is always good to make the effort to catch up with people that are part of my story.
I was walking past my old driving instructor’s house and as I thought of him, as I have many times over the years, he happened to be standing outside. So I crossed the road and waved.
“You look like a familiar face” he said.
“Hi, Lawrence, I’m Andrew, you taught me to drive in 1990, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for helping me be a half decent driver.”
As he broke into a huge smile I knew that it really meant something to him. We shot the breeze for twenty minutes, sharing stories about life, largely driving related. Lawrence is nearly 80 now and hasn’t taught as an instructor for a number of years but remains active in speed safety and defensive driving organisations. It was a privilege to talk with him and hear his genuine passion for keeping young people safe, to help them make good decisions in life.
As Lawrence talked he told me his greatest pride was in teaching youngsters who had been in trouble with the law, drugs or were otherwise in danger of going down the wrong path and in knowing that he’d helped some get back on the right track. He’d given people a skill that might create opportunities they would have missed out on. He was able to see his students growing as people during their training. This was his greatest sense of achievement.
I couldn’t have guessed that a simple “thank you” would mean so much, but I could tell Lawrence was deeply touched by the way I took the time to offer it to him . He enquired of my driving record and what I remembered of our lessons and his teaching. I’m glad I took the time simply to enjoy Lawrence’s company, to listen to his story and to share mine.
Of course, while chatting with him I didn’t go into business mode ‘examining’ his core purpose. It was only on reflection that I realised that our exchange had something more to teach.I realised that having a core purpose, a reason for getting up everyday, isn’t simply something that makes a difference to how we work, where we work and why we choose to do what we do for a living.
It is much deeper. It’s the need for a purpose in life, the need for something meaningful to drive us on. It is a deep part of who we are. I now know that keeping youngsters safe isn’t just a part of what made Lawrence a great driving instructor. It is what makes him a great person.
Whether it is a passion, a purpose or a calling, see it in others as well as yourself. Understand what drives others to be the best they can be. And if they touch your life through it, say thank you. I’m currently reading A Tribe Of Mentors by Tim Ferris, he quotes Esther Perel:“Always take the time to acknowledge people - and not just when you know when you have something to gain. If you show interest in them, they will show interest in you. People react to kindness, to respect with respect.”
A little recognition can make a big difference to lives of others. To be sure, it will mean a lot to them. I’ll be sure to recognise it next time I hear someone expressing a true passion for why they choose their path in life. Not only is it a better way to be, it’s better business, too.