Written By Chad Kearns

Published on January 3, 2023

Why are we doing this?

How does my work connect to the direction of the organization?

Two questions that many leaders struggle to answer for their team members in a meaningful way.

And unfortunately, for leaders who are at a loss for answering those questions, the presence of purpose is increasingly important in today’s work environment.

When an inspiring purpose is present at work, the benefits are clear. 63% of employees say they are motivated when a company has a clearly defined purpose that has been communicated. Purpose doesn’t even need to be incredibly inspiring for it to be meaningful, it just needs to be present.

But many leaders struggle when it comes to harnessing the power of purpose for their team for a variety of reasons:

Leading with Purpose

  • Leaders struggle to identify an inspiring purpose
  • Leaders don’t feel empowered to define a purpose
  • Leaders forget to communicate their team’s purpose
  • Leaders fail to connect the work of their team back to its purpose

Without a purpose to rally around, engagement from team members to excel and stay with the organization for the long term diminishes.

Leaders who identify, communicate, and connect the work back to an inspiring purpose set themselves up to cultivate an engaged team ready to do their best work.

Identifying Purpose for your Team is Important Work

Having a purpose provides individuals, teams, and organizations a north star to point to. It doesn’t matter if you lead a team of 163 or three, the team you lead should have a purpose. It should be clear. It should be known by everyone on your team. It should be woven into the day-to-day work.

That purpose should inform your team’s vision, values, strategic priorities, and culture. A clear and compelling purpose lets people know why they are part of a team and what they are working to accomplish together.

Leaders who struggle to rally those around them with a shared purpose miss out on a big opportunity to build engagement.

Where to Identify your Team’s Purpose

As a leader, developing an inspiring purpose is work that should be done regardless of the size of your team or where your team may sit within a larger organization. Start by identifying who your work serves. Here are a couple of places to start when sourcing your team’s purpose:

Community-focused Purpose

Community-focused purposes tend to be the most inspiring and the easiest to identify.

These show up predictably in the non-profit space but more and more for-profit companies are bringing community-focused purpose to the center stage. Community-focused purposes tend to drive entire organizations and are focused on serving community needs.

Cotopaxi does a nice job of tying together its purpose with a charitable touch. 1% of all Cotopaxi revenue goes to non-profits that help communities experiencing poverty.

Consumer-focused Purpose

A consumer-focused purpose is inspired by fulfilling the needs of your end-user, the people who benefit from engaging with your organization:

  • The client who buys your service
  • The buyer who purchases your product
  • The traveler who visits your destination

Consumer-focused purposes tend to drive entire organizations as well. Consider the outcomes your work drives for those consumers. How are their lives better through your work?

Warby Parker does a nice job of this.

“We also believe that everyone has the right to see.”

Clear. Concise. Inspiring. Connecting the work they do to the outcomes they are capable of driving.

Organizational-focused Purpose

An organizational focus is inspired by supporting others within your larger organization. These purposes are commonly developed by smaller teams within a larger organization.

Organizational-focused purposes are not typically public facing so I’ll share a fictional example:

We exist to drive qualified leads for our sales team so they can close deals, growing our organization.

It may not be as inspiring as the previous examples, but it connects the work to the desired outcomes, and growing the organization through more sales is inspiring for many.

Self-Serving Purpose

We see this present in organizations from time to time and self-serving purposes typically stay in-house and out of the public eye for good reason. The purpose here focuses on how the people within the organization benefit from particular outcomes or success.

Here’s a fictional example: We are growing this company as quickly as we can so we can sell it and sail off into the sunset.

Inspiring to the outside consumer? No.

Inspiring the folks working to get it done? Maybe so.

Either way, it connects the work to the desired outcome.

Get Aspirational

Lead with Purpose

The purpose you identify and march towards should be aspirational. It should feel big and audacious. Honestly, it should feel a little overwhelming.

Strong purpose statements should feel achievable and unobtainable at the same time. (yes, that is possible) 

Set the bar too low and you’ll be cycling through purposes and purpose statements every few years. Make your purpose too grand and your team will struggle to connect to it. Find the right mix and watch your team latch on and run with it.

Pick What Resonates

Oftentimes, purpose boils down to one or a combination of the purpose types mentioned above. There is no formula. There is no exact science behind it.

As the leader of your team, your team’s purpose better resonate with you! You are responsible for rallying your team around it.

Work to find the right fit for you and your team. You don’t have to decide on your team’s forever purpose. Iterate along the way as it makes sense.

Bring the Purpose to Life

Once a purpose is established, leaders must bring it to life. Make it a part of the everyday conversation. This is where leaders most commonly misstep.

Talk about your purpose regularly. Share wins and progress towards your organization’s purpose regularly.

Here are a couple of places to make your team’s purpose present:

  • Connect it to strategic priorities
  • Relate the day-to-day work to it
  • Weave it into the performance management process (reviews, promotions, etc.)
  • Talk about progress to it during team meetings and all-hands
  • Celebrate wins when delivering on the purpose is achieved!

Establish your team’s purpose as a part of everyday conversation.

Make. It. Present.

As it comes to life and your team members see how their contribution impacts the team’s purpose, they’ll buy in and engage.

When was the last time to talked about your team’s purpose? Does your team have one? If not, time to get started.