Purpose, What Is It?

Purpose has become a hot topic in the business world, EVERYONE is talking about it. 

Executives want to know how to become a purpose driven company, leaders want to know how to infuse purpose into their company culture, and employees are demanding purposeful work. While more and more companies talk about becoming a purpose driven business, it’s time we take a step back and ask, what exactly is purpose?

Aaron Hurst, author of “The Purpose Economy,” explains it best, “purpose comes when we know we have done something that we believe matters.” He goes on further to break purpose down into three core categories: personal, social, and societal. Each is equally important, and purpose driven business can meet the needs of each category.

“Purpose comes when we know we have done something that we believe matters”

1. Personal

It starts with individual passion. What are you good at? What problem(s) are you trying to solve, when do you find yourself happiest? These are the questions you need to ask yourself, and are a great starting point to further understand your personal purpose. Hurst say’s personal purpose is all about doing what we love, challenging ourselves, and having the ability to express ourselves.

Put Purpose to Work: It’s important to understand your employees strengths. If an employee excels at fixing software bugs, set a goal, and see how many they can fix in a month’s time. An exciting challenge will motivate them and allow them to strengthen their skills, while further fueling their purpose.

2. Social

Social purpose, can come in many different forms, but ultimately stems from wanting to build a community of togetherness. A study done at Colorado State University found relationships are what matter most to humans, because they strengthen our value, connect us, and support growth. Social purpose becomes less about the problem and more about the experience of solving it together.

Put Purpose to Work: Host a brainstorm session. Provide multiple opportunities for employees to collaborate, and encourage them to work together to solve important issues. Employees want to feel supported and united in the work that they do.

3. Societal

This type of purpose is bigger than us/ourselves; it’s about making an impact on the world around us. A common misconception is that societal impact only involves volunteering, social work, and careers where the impact is clear. Societal purpose can come from creating a new innovative technology that helps solve social issues.

Put Purpose to Work: Providing your employees with the ability to think bigger about how your business can make a positive impact on the world, not only shines brightly upon your business, it allows your employees to focus on something much larger than themselves. At the same time it shows your employees, the business they work for cares about the world as much as they do.

Purpose at Work at Timberland
A great example of a purpose driven business is outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland. Timberland does a great job providing their employees with multiple opportunities to get involved in their CSR efforts, even offering employees paid time off to pursue personal volunteering opportunities. This allows individuals to pursue their personal passions with the support of their company. Timberland also hosts company wide volunteer days, which plays into social purpose, bringing the Timberland community together twice a year to improve their local community. These events are so successful because it incorporates togetherness, and allows employees to further strengthen relationships through service. Lastly comes their societal purpose. Timberland has built a remarkable program, building workout equipment, organizing nature walk cleanups, planting millions of trees, and has deeply embedded their purpose into the core of their business. Timberland lives their purpose each and everyday and supports their employees and community in doing the same.

How do you define purpose?