‘Why do we do what we do?’ – Purpose

‘Purpose’ and ‘Identity’:

Last week we explored the views of our Pilot Study Group on the topic of ‘Identity’. Towards the end of the piece, we touched on the significance of ‘Purpose’ and how it seems intricately bound to our identities, both as individuals and organisations. This week, we will explore the views of our Pilot Study Group further, as we look at this topic.


‘Purpose’ as Significant to ‘Individual’ and to ‘Organisation:

The majority of our respondents explicitly stated that having a sense of Purpose is very significant to them personally. Taking account of what the project has already generated regarding Identity, this is certainly not surprising, but its significance is easily underestimated. We’re not necessarily talking about some sort of ‘Life Project’ here (although even among our small group, there are those who were certainly motivated by such); but the identification of a range of short/long-term objectives as generally constituting a Purpose.

More interestingly, all of the respondents articulated a perceived need for an organisation to have a clearly articulated Purpose. Of the reasons proposed to justify this belief, the most popular were ‘to provide an indicator of beliefs, behaviours and attitudes’ and ‘to set the direction of the organisation and keep it on track’.

The first of these is the most intriguing, because the respondents were also given the option of ‘Purpose gives people something to believe in’, which none of them selected, implying that purpose may be deep-rooted, arguably foundational. The majority of the group clearly felt that Purpose should be the primary influence over an organisation’s values and beliefs, and that it should be Purpose that guides the organisation forwards.

If this is the case, how can an organisation without a clearly stated Purpose hope to function effectively?


A Life of ‘Purpose’:

When asked for their thoughts on the significance of Purpose to them, responses, though varied in emphasis, revealed some consistent themes. For example, they were all in agreement that Purpose is hugely significant, both on a personal level and, arguably even more so, for an organisation. Purpose is a foundational principle for human endeavour. It’s also strongly motivational. Without a clearly stated purpose how can an organisation engage with its employees – or retain talent on the longer term?

Most significantly however, a substantial number of respondents argued that without a clearly stated purpose, an organisation cannot really engage with its employees, and certainly cannot be sure of long-term retention of real talent in its work force.

This further emphasises one of the conclusions of last week’s piece, namely that an organisation must be candid about its ‘Identity’ and what it is there to do from word go. In a day and age when many prospective recruits are playing a numbers game, and more people than ever are ‘qualified’ for jobs, justifying who you are, what you do and how you do it are increasingly crucial.


Thinking about ‘Purpose’ – The Wider Picture:

In the words of one of our respondents: In terms of an employer, purpose seems to be the reason for them being an employer in the first place. It sets out what the organisation is there for, what it does and what it is hoping to achieve, how it hopes to impact its environment/ professional field, how it is beneficial, and what kind of employees it attracts.”


Final Thoughts:

‘Purpose’ and ‘Identity’ are strongly linked, not just with each other, but also with more abstract notion like ‘Values’, ‘Beliefs’ and ‘Behaviours’. In next week’s entry, we will look at Topic 3 of the Research Project: Values, when we will explore not just the concept of values in relation to the Pilot Study Group, but how all three of these discussion points are intricately intertwined and deserving of equal attention from the perspective of any organisation.

(Image courtesy of choosing2learn.com)