You must move forcefully to put deep purpose into practice if you are to reap its benefits. Here are seven suggestions to help you translate a deep purpose mindset into leadership action.
1. Check your organization’s commitment to its purpose. Because purpose naturally decays over time, it requires constant care and attention. Has energy around the purpose lapsed? Does purpose shape how your leadership team makes large and small decisions? Do people still understand the organizational purpose and bring it to life in their daily work? Do external stakeholders believe in the purpose and your ability to execute on it? Has your company, despite its best intentions, drifted into “convenient purpose”?
2. Inject purpose into succession planning. Leadership handoffs are tricky when it comes to purpose. As you prepare your successor, plan out how they might carry the torch of purpose while also making it their own. Working together, map out specific steps your successor can take that articulate the purpose, and steps you might take to link your successor to the company’s purpose. If you’re an incoming leader, take an inventory of actions and behaviors you can implement to accept the mantle of purpose.
3. Get to work on purpose-related metrics. You must measure purpose, even if doing so requires some acceptance of subjectivity and imperfection. Measure purpose-related inputs or enablers of purpose, not just results. Consider a range of methods, including perceptual measures (surveys of a range of internal and external stakeholders) and outcome measures. Pay attention to the growing body of work on measuring ESG and connect it with your measures of purpose. Tailor your metrics to your specific purpose and organizational processes as well as to more specific principles and behaviors you might derive from your purpose. Finally, consider how your metrics might connect with the specific ways that you create long-term value.
4. Find the balance between social and commercial commitments. Make sure you clarify each stakeholder’s expectations, negotiating with them when necessary on an ongoing basis to avoid surprises and disappointment. Recognize that stakeholders will benchmark you against your peers, in some cases raising expectations for the entire industry. When performance relative to any stakeholder expectation seems to be slipping, take aggressive action.
5. Make purpose part of the organization’s strategy and operating rhythm. At all phases of strategy-making—when crafting high-level strategies, making strategic choices, and allocating resources—run a purpose “gut check” to ensure compatibility with the purpose. Encourage debate so that others can feel a sense of ownership over purpose’s interpretation. Consider whether your organization might make public commitments, increase transparency, and engage with external certifying bodies to ensure long-term alignment between purpose and strategy.
6. Assess your branding: How clearly does your external brand communicate purpose? Is your reason for being an integral part of your identity? Do any opportunities exist to highlight your purpose authentically? Are you taking meaningful public stands in relation to your purpose? Let purpose guide your marketing and branding strategy, including in decisions about whether to take a public stand or stay silent.
7. Stay inspired. Focus at all times on aligning your personal purpose with the organization’s reason for being. Why are you really doing what you’re doing? What legacy of leadership do you hope to leave? How would you want future leaders and employees to describe your contribution? If you at one time felt personally inspired by your organization’s purpose, does that still hold true? And if not, what changes might you make?
As this list of action steps suggests, the practice of deep purpose is transformational, amounting to a fundamental reshaping and reimagining of your business. If that seems overwhelming, rest assured that you need not accomplish it all at once. Approach deep purpose as an ongoing and open-ended project rather than a discrete, one-off initiative.
Start with a few of these steps, choosing those that seem both most relevant and actionable given your current position and resources. Unlike typical change-management exercises, deep purpose gets to the heart of why the firm exists. Little by little, it forces a recalibration of the firm’s role as well as its relationship with employees, customers, and society at large.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Ranjay Gulati and excerpted from his book DEEP PURPOSE. Copyright © 2022 by Ranjay Gulati.
Shared here with permission from Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
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