Purpose Isn’t Cute

In a Company Transition, It Can Really Save Your Butt

I was recently on a development call with a high-tech company experiencing a period of intense growth and expansion.

The leader I spoke with painted a picture of the overwhelm that had crept into the organization. Employees had too much to do and too little time to do it, fueling a constant and deflating sense of “not keeping up.” They felt siloed, fractured, and pulled in too many directions. They felt inadequate and ill-prepared to meet the challenges ahead.

On the heels of this less-than-ideal description, I asked about their success in the area of retention. A purely rhetorical question, mind you. Given what he had just described, I all but assumed that the folks at this company were heading for the hills.

“Retention is pretty good, actually,” he said. “People are sticking around.”

Huh?

That didn’t add up. I pressed him further. If your people are having such a hard time, why are they sticking around?

“Well, despite it all, they really believe in the work we’re doing. And they want to be a part of it.”

You see, this company is a trailblazer in the space. The technology they are developing has far-reaching implications for considerable advancement in the areas of medicine, higher education, design, and more.

The world stands to be a better place because of this technology. And despite the very serious growing pains this company was going through, that was enough to keep their employees around, and performing at a high level.

To me, this was another reminder of the very real, very tangible power of purpose.

This effect isn’t merely anecdotal. Consider a recent Gallup study showing that a “10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organization leads to an 8.1% decrease in turnover and a 4.4% increase in profitability.”

A caveat: no matter how much a sense of purpose pervades the halls of your company, employees who feel stretched aren’t going to stick around forever. And eventually, your performance in the marketplace will invariably suffer.

But a sense of purpose buys you time, loyalty, and engagement.

I work with companies going through all sorts of transitions. Merger and acquisition. Re-structuring. New ownership. Cultural Transformation. You name it.

These can be hectic times, and inevitably, some stuff falls through cracks. That’s okay.

One of the highest impact actions you can take during this period to mitigate the messiness is to re-presence your people to the purpose guiding this transition in particular and the company in general.

For example, if a healthcare company is acquiring another healthcare company, it serves to remind folks the impact that the acquisition can make in the lives of real human beings: e.g., that this is about providing access and better quality outcomes to healthcare for those who need it. An inspiring sense of purpose such as that can give folks the wherewithal to roll with the punches.

It’s got to be authentic. If all this talk about “purpose” is seen as lipstick on a pig, a diversion so you can get back to railroading your people, that’s only going to fan the flames of overwhelm and mistrust.

But if you can get it right — if you can tap into a real sense of “why” — you stand to unlock stores of performance and potential that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

For your own inspiration on “why,” check out one of my all-time favorite videos: Know Your Why | Michael Jr.

Kari is CEO of an executive leadership firm, supporting leaders to align and elevate performance. See more at www.grangernetwork.com