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  • Writer's pictureSeema Sutradhar

Organisation's Purpose: what it can do?

If you may look back on your journey so far and try to remember a situation at work or outside where you have noticed people really join in and give their best, what was that situation?

My first half marathon was in Mumbai in 2009 and one of the memorable ones. What fascinated me was the overwhelming support and participation by residents and bystanders who were so enthusiastic to offer you food or water or just show their joy by some street shows or music or some kind of act they could think of. It was like a fiesta. These people were not asked for or appointed volunteers to cheer the runners. They were the ones who saw some kind of connection with the runners. They enjoyed doing what they did.

We all keep reading stories about events where people have come together on their own in situations of a sudden flood, an accident, a terrorist attack or any natural calamity and have shown their courage and goodness in overcoming the challenges. It is a universal thing not localised to a country, religion or race. There is a common element, of doing things for others, over just me. This element is very satisfying, engaging and unites people. These are the opportunities to show generosity or kindness within us. In such situations, we feel motivated from inside. Our heart is into the job, not just mind, and then we are not looking for external motivators. In my 20 years of working, I probably have missed noticing that kind of overwhelming participation although many glimpses of the same were present in situations where the team was really inspired by the project or the task.

So is it possible for organisations to have a purpose that will generate the same kind of intrinsic motivators for people? Why not? Does it have to be a not-for-profit, social work that comes to our mind in the first instance? My answer to this is NO. It is very simple. Mainstream businesses need to frame a purpose. A purpose that is in harmony with the ecosystem it exists in and has an element of service to others - the social good. This social good, the element of doing things for others over just me will provide the intrinsic motivations. Everyone benefits. The business becomes sustainable, people working for the organisation see the end purpose in their daily jobs that they do, the extended ecosystem is in harmony, and thus all are benefited, a win-win situation rather than win for some and lose for others. When companies are able to frame a purpose like that, and they are able to let the employees see their personal connection to that the magic happens. They feel inspired, intrinsically motivated and ready to put their hearts into the task. It is no more a job for external rewards only. External rewards are necessary but it does not give that kind of happiness and the desire to be optimistic, take a risk, follow your conviction or creativity and get fully engaged in your job.

We are now at a time in history where things are changing at laser speed. Almost everything around us is disrupted by technology. The world is certainly VUCA - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. To take advantage of this uncertain time and make the world a better place to live we need to engage everyone and that will happen through the intrinsic motivations which come from the element of service - the social good. So what could be the reframed purpose of organisations? All around us, there is plenty of work to be done to address global challenges we all are facing today. These challenges include climate change, poverty, food, health, education, clean water and sanitation, equality and justice, the uplifting of human lives and much more. The purpose of the organisation could be derived from the global challenges we are facing. This is where the needs are, and this is where people would like to contribute to because it is for social good, the joy of doing something meaningful.

On September 25th, 2015, at historic UN summit, countries adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. They came up with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. For the goals to be reached, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people in general. It is the partnership between Government, Public and Business which can only address them. Here businesses need to see these as opportunities and not an obligation.

"This is not a Corporate Social Responsibility. This is simply the opportunity for doing business, the new markets. This mind shift is the future."

Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, Salesforce in his article “We must ensure the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a force for good” says:

“In the coming decades, we need to establish guardrails that keep the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on a track to benefit all of humanity. We can all individually have a direct role in shaping our future, and creating economic opportunity for millions of people by investing our time and resources in helping others.”

He also quotes what Prof. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum says:

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution can compromise humanity's traditional sources of meaning – work, community, family, and identity – or it can lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sense of shared destiny. The choice is ours.”

The framing of purpose by businesses and how they help employees see their personal connection to that purpose is going to make the difference at this time of enormous change.

"For change and innovation to happen, people need to be motivated intrinsically to connect through their hearts and not just minds"

We know authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity. For these, we need the purpose that is for social good that makes a place in our heart.

Here is an example:

“Unilever has, from its origins, been a purpose-driven company. Today our purpose is simple but clear - to make sustainable living commonplace. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is our blueprint for achieving our vision to grow our business, whilst decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact. The Plan sets stretching targets, including how we source raw materials and how consumers use our brands. The scale of our ambition means that we are finding new ways to partner with others in business, government and society. Faced with the challenge of climate change and the need for human development, we want to move towards a world where everyone can live well and within the natural limits of the planet. That’s why our purpose is ‘to make sustainable living commonplace.”

A Unilever employee "Tracy Shepard-Rashkin" beautifully speaks about "How A Purpose-Driven Career Benefits You – And Your Business".

Once you have a purpose like that, employees connect to it. Another, e.g. Dr Reddy’s a large global pharmaceutical company arrived at their purpose ‘Good Health Can’t Wait” centred on the needs of their patients. Instead of plastering this new slogan on motivational posters and repeating it in all-hands meetings, the leadership team began by quietly using it to start guiding their own decisions. The goal was to demonstrate this idea in action, not talk about it. With the company’s more than seven distinct business units operating in 27 countries and more than 20,000 employees, the leadership team began showing changes in decision-making which eventually became the force for employees renewed way of doing things.

So an organisation’s purpose that is focused on social good will surely make a place in employee’s hearts. They get to do things for others, over just themselves which is so satisfying, engaging and uniting. They get the opportunities to show generosity or kindness within themselves, and they feel motivated from inside. Their hearts are into the job, not just minds, and then they are not looking for external motivators. External motivators are important, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.

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