3 reasons why purpose needs to be on the agenda of every enterprise

Based on working with number of CEO’s and Executives Boards over the last months here is a three-part article looking:

  1. 3 reasons why a purpose driven business needs to be on the agenda of every enterprise
  2. 5 criteria that make a purpose a purpose (and what a purpose is not)
  3. 3 ways to find your purpose based on conversations with CEO’s



A purpose is simply your reason for existing. Simply? Perhaps.

Much has been written and talked about when being purpose driven. In 2014 The Lancet published an article clearly linked a sense of purpose with people living longer. Organisations that have a purpose and live their purpose over-perform by as much as 80%.

But in a world of visions, missions, strategies, goals and objectives – do we have space for yet another chapter in our annual reports and shareholder meetings?

The short answer is yes, and here is why.

1. It will be demanded of business

With the influx of millennials, the rise of generation alpha (yes, we’ve started again with the Greek alphabet) who are just starting school – the businesses of the future promises to be a profoundly different experience. The ability to attract and retain talent will come down to a broader reason for existing, a greater impact on society and a more profound influence on government and policy.

We’ve seen the numbers: 90% of millennials want to use their skills to make a difference. 75% consider the social impact of their future employer as critical in their choice to work (or not) for them. Even if these numbers are far-fetched and detached from the hard reality of life and not having mummy to do your washing – the ideal will never leave and will in fact only grow as the real damage to our planet and lack of global leadership becomes more apparent.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. —Mark Twain


2. Business is the last bastion of global change

We’ve seen in the US on topics such as the US Travel Ban on Muslims, Gun Control and the Paris Climate Accord - it’s business that steps up where Government and Politicians fail. The world of business does not have to dance to the tune of voters and tax payers. They have shareholders, but they are, on the whole, smarter. Business can be bold, counter-government and make decisions that benefit society, profits and reputation.

“Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.” - GE CEO, Jeff Immelt


3. The meta narratives have collapsed

“As long as there is a story, it’s alright.” – Graham Swift

100 years ago, there were the big stories, global and pan-continental narratives that gave a framework to the world we lived in and our roles within it. From Sun Gods to Abraham. Empire to Modernism. Capitalism to Communism. These global narratives have provided us with a structure we could live by, a way to construct our thoughts and our lives.

These stores stopped us asking the one question that has seen empires topple and governments fall: what is the point of life? As Marx said, "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes." Or, what he really meant to say, keep making up the big stories like religion and you’ll prevent people in from asking too many questions, like why am I here?

Alas (or maybe not), those stories, without exception have shrunk, the masses have woken up and what is the first thing they do? Create a new story for themselves… because then everything is alright.

If there is no story – we curl up and die very quickly.

Purpose provides the framework that people can live by. Business is the new church where people socialise, serve a greater purpose, can progress as a human being and can impact the wider community.


Five FAQ's around purpose

  1. Does every company have a purpose? Yes – even if it’s just send invoices and make money.
  2. Do you need to articulate your purpose? No, but it really helps.
  3. Is purpose the same as vision? No. Purpose is why you exist. Vision is what you believe a future could state could or should look like.
  4. Purpose and Ambition then? Purpose is why you exist. Ambition is a realistic future when everything you are and have is working optimally. For example, my purpose (for now) is to help people and businesses articulate their own purpose. My ambition is that I will help leaders from big business and government become purpose driven and in turn create a slightly better world for their people and they planet. (Bold, I know).
  5. Is your purpose set in stone? No, to some extent its fluid. Think of it like a portrait. Your purpose is a set of words that expresses something immensely deep, emotional and systemic. You can only ever create an interpretation of what you think it is. I see no reason why it can’t be tweaked and adjusted. Balance that with that fact that at some point you need to turn it in to a culture and set of thinking and actions. At some point you need to lock and load.

Next up, 5 criteria that make a purpose a purpose (and what a purpose is not).