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Get your people to own your purpose by being a purpose-led organisation

Building and nurturing ownership of your purpose for the people in your organisation is the role of leadership. How do you get ownership? By bringing your people on the journey.

Whether your purpose is recently articulated or has been established for some time, sharing the journey you undertook in developing your purpose statement provides strong foundations. It’s an opportunity to unearth stories about how you got there, so that your team has context and they don’t feel the organisation’s purpose is simply a superficial exercise in word crafting.

Once you’ve shared this background, ask for feedback. Encourage discussion. Invite them to think about and share what this purpose means or could mean for them in their role. Ask them how it aligns with how they see themselves as individuals and to consider what ideas it inspires for them.

How you do this will depend on your organisation’s size, culture and geographical situation.

Ideally, a workshop, or series of workshops, will encourage a healthy exchange of ideas to start. The ideas that come out initially are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. As changes occur around us – within our environment, to the market, to people’s needs and to societal culture – new opportunities and challenges will arise. Your purpose should guide you and your people through these changes and inspire new initiatives and innovations.

Framing questions

Some well-framed questions about your purpose statement will help to get your people thinking deeply about it. I suggest trying the following questions:

What are we already doing well that aligns with our purpose?
This question builds credibility. If people can see you’re already on the path, even in small ways, it gives them confidence.

In what ways can we bring our purpose to life internally at this organisation?
Get them thinking about what they can do personally. It’s a great starting point for action.

In what ways can our purpose guide how we serve our clients/ customers/consumers?
Move the lens to the people you serve.

How might our purpose serve society?
Widen the lens further.

What extraordinary possibilities could we achieve if we removed our limiting beliefs about what our organisation is capable of?
Take your people on a journey from thinking about what you’re already doing, to exploring the easy possibilities and the possibilities that will take some effort. Then invite them to be ambitious and courageous, asking them what extraordinary possibilities your purpose could inspire.

Finally, ask them to consider what challenges your organisation might encounter on its path to purpose. And how the organisation might overcome these challenges.

Socialising purpose drives transformational thinking and ownership

I recently worked with a company whose leaders’ commitment to socialising their purpose through their people was unmistakable.

In just one half-day session, involving a combination of large and small breakout group workshops, the team uncovered an abundance of high-quality opportunities for the business. Transformational ideas that would further enhance the culture of their organisation, improve client outcomes, have societal impact and that formed the steppingstones for the business to further its leadership role in its sector.

The excitement was palpable. This company engaged its people in a session specifically on the organisation’s purpose and provided a forum for them to share their own ideas. As a result, it was evident that the organisation’s purpose clearly represented their people.

My top tip is to start by sharing inspiration of other successful purposeful organisations. This establishes the possibilities that exist beyond the traditional parameters of business.

Purposeful organisations are driven by the societal change they want to contribute to. By inviting your people to think about the opportunities and contribute their ideas on how your purpose can be brought to life, you empower them as custodians of your purpose.  Involving them in the process of development and implementation builds all-important ownership of your organisation’s purpose among the people with the will, capability and energy to bring it to life.

Carolyn Butler-Madden is the author of two books on Social Purpose, “For Love & Money” and “Path To Purpose”. Carolyn is a purpose specialist and a passionate speaker on this topic. As Chief Purpose Activist of her consultancy, The Cause Effect, she helps leaders define and embed purpose strategically into their business and brand to deliver meaningful impact.


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