Recent Posts



No tags yet.

The Emperor’s New Purpose

How easy is it to swarm the entire organisation behind a purpose? And how do you know you have succeeded?

Do you remember the short story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Hans Christian Andersen? The tale of an Emperor who hires tailors who promise him clothes invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid or incompetent. However, the tailors make no clothes, leading everyone to believe the new clothes are invisible to them. And of course, nobody dares admit they are unfit for their positions, stupid or incompetent.

How many organisations have a ‘Purpose’ that suffers the same tailoring?

Or, like Carillion, have no purpose.

Most Chief Emperors nod sagely in response to the question ‘Got purpose?’ ‘Ahem, of course we have a purpose,’ they reply. ‘Any Chief Emperor worth his salt knows the importance of purpose.’

But are stakeholders looking on and wondering if the CE needs a new tailor?

Research supporting the value of an organisation’s purpose has been gathering pace and depth.

A recent study by Korn Ferry showed that companies with teams focused on their organization’s purpose had annual growth rates nearly 300% higher than the annual rate in their competitive sector. 300%!

A PricewaterhouseCoopers’ study of purpose in the workplace noted that leaders who focus only on market value miss out on an even higher business value to be gained by using purpose to bring meaning to employees’ work, an essential element of the Employee Experience. Millennials are 530% more likely to stay with an organisation if they sense a strong connection to the business’s purpose. Non-millennials report a 230% greater likelihood of loyalty if they sense a strong connection to the business’s purpose.

Ernst & Young tout purpose as galvanising “people to ignite long-lasting positive change, driving growth and innovation.”

Deloitte do it, “There is a clear connection between a sense of purpose that delivers positive impacts for all stakeholders and sustained business success”, said Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO. They also research it “The results of the Deloitte sixth annual Millennial Survey reveal that the majority of young professionals find purpose and positive culture are more important drivers than financial success.”

KPMG’s research revealed that employees whose leaders talked about purpose scored significantly higher on retention, brand, and purpose-related items than those whose leaders did not.

People write books about it: Firms of Endearment, How World-Class Companies Profit From Passion and Purpose by Rajendra S. Sisodia, David B. Wolfe.

Businesses have been doing for a long time. John Cadbury opened his first shop in 1824 with the purpose of creating a healthy and delicious alternative to alcohol.

So, if everyone recognises that the fine cloth of purpose is essential business gear then everyone is wearing it? Right? And it is hand-crafted designer gear that is instantly recognisable? Right?

Carillion didn’t.

According to PwC, only 27% of business leaders guide supervisors to have conversations with their teams about purpose.

Just the other day I witnessed one of the 73% that had not guided his team. During a robust discussion between several people attending a workshop a CE waxed lyrical about his company’s purpose. ‘At World Solar Technology we have a great purpose, we’re saving the world by installing renewable, non-carbon energy systems,’ he declared.

Another CE in the group held up her stop hand, threw her iPhone on the table as if it were a gauntlet, found the website for WST and dialled the number. The room hushed. The call went something like this:

‘Hello, World Solar Technology,’ a person answered.

‘Good morning WST,’ said the CE, her stop hand still silencing the room. ‘Can you tell me what the purpose of WST is?’

‘Uh, okay. Um, that would be to install solar panels on factories and homes.’

‘Thank you,’ said the stop hand CE, ‘Put me through to your Sales Manager, please.’

‘Certainly, please hold.’

‘Hello, WST, Dan speaking, how may I be of service?’ said the Sales Manager.

‘Good morning Dan,’ said the stop hand CE. ‘Can you tell me the purpose of WST?’

‘Oh yeah, we’re the best and brightest solar panel company in the country. No job too big or too small, we quote them all,’ said Dan, Sales Manager.

Stop hand CE, not one for small talk, disconnected the line. Redialled. Asked for the HR Manager. Her hand stayed up and the room remained silent. The CE of WST had a glistening upper lip and his thumb threatened to snap the pencil he gripped hard in his hand.

‘Hello HR,’ said HR.

‘Hello HR,’ said the stop hand CE. ‘Can you tell me the purpose of WST?’

‘Uh, well sure, we’re aiming to be the friendliest provider of renewable energy in the area.’

Stop hand CE disconnected the line, looked at the WST CE, smirked and said, ‘Ha! Nothing on your website about purpose or vision. I’m not going to bother calling one of your customers.’

So, to answer the questions posed upfront: 1. How easy is it to get the entire organisation behind a common purpose? and 2. How do you know you have succeeded in getting the purpose throughout the organisation?

1. PwC provides an insight to the first question - only 27% of business leaders guide supervisors to have conversations with their teams about purpose. So, is it easy? I’ll leave that for you to answer.

2. A CE will know success when everyone in the organisation knows the purpose and a uniform answer rolls off the tongue with passion and inspiration.

To find out if your organisation really has purpose – measure by surveying the people throughout your organisation. Feeling bold? Survey other stakeholders such as customers and suppliers to see if they know your purpose.

And if you need to change tailors…