Do you believe business exists simply to make money? That profit and wealth creation for shareholders are the only drivers? That corporate social responsibility is purely a “nice to have” add on policy, such as allowing staff a day off per year to volunteer at a charity?
I believe there are still a significant number of people out there in the corporate world who do think like this so I was really delighted to attend the CA ANZ Business Forum 2017 last week where the topic for the whole conference was “purpose”. For a room full of chartered accountants this was possibly going to be a little challenging!
In just one day, the array of ideas and perspectives presented on the topic was terrific, and having digested and reflected on them I want to summarise the highlights across my next few blogs.
Why do businesses exist?
At the heart of the topic is the need to re-humanise organisations and the way people work within them. When we start to tell the stories of both employees and customers, and to connect them to each other we can truly understand that every organisation and every job exists to serve a human need or solve a human problem.
It is fundamental to human wellbeing to seek both connection and meaning in our lives, and if we cannot understand the purpose of our roles, or fail to uncover the meaning in what we are doing then we quickly become disengaged.
Zach Mercurio (http://www.zachmercurio.com/) shared some great statistics and some great stories in relation to levels of engagement and wellbeing when people see purpose in what they do. Studies have shown that people are happier and even live longer if they feel a sense of purpose in their lives.
We also know that more engaged employees deliver better business results so we are not talking about purpose as the “touchy feely” stuff only to be cared about by HR departments. We are talking about how it makes great business sense.
In times of change and complexity, leaders who can uncover and articulate the organisation's sense of purpose, and bring their staff along with them on that journey, will be positioning themselves and their organisations well for the future.
The importance of story-telling
Central to building an organisational culture where purpose is clear and energising is the development of trust and psychological safety within teams. If people can talk openly, and as leaders we actively listen, then we can unlock the stories which already exist in our people. Zach shared a terrific story about a room full of employees at a company making electronic components. They were struggling to articulate their purpose until one women described seeing their major client’s brand name as she was slid into an MRI scanner when faced with a major health scare. In that moment she realised the literally life-saving importance of what she did for a living. It is crucial to seek the real person at the end of the chain to fully understand your role.
Adam Grant’s research also demonstrated that just a 5 minute personal story from a scholarship recipient completely changed how call centre workers raising donations for these scholarship programs approached their job. A month after the interaction the call centre workers who had met the recipient had spent twice as long on the phone and raised a weekly average 170% higher than those workers who had not met him. (For more about this research click here)
So humanising the outcomes of our work and sharing stories can have huge impact on the bottom line, and that is certainly something all the accountants in the room could understand!!
And in the words of Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, "without economic development, social progress is not possible; without social progress, economic development is not sustainable."
I will continue exploring some of the great learning that came out of this inspiring day in my future blogs.
I love working with people to figure our their own individual purpose, as well as working with leadership teams to articulate that of their team or organisation, so if you would like support with that please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org