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  • Writer's pictureOlivier S.E. Courtois

Should You Be Purpose-Driven to Succeed?

Nowadays, it is not enough to have a good product to seduce the most demanding customers, or a good job to offer to attract the best talents. It is necessary to add a 'purpose', that extra touch of soul, likely to create the emotional link, guaranteeing loyalty or motivation.

But what is it really about and is it a real evolution or a simple 'washing' exercise?

The notion of purpose makes sense from a marketing point of view. Today's consumers are eager for products or services that are good for the planet, offered by companies that serve a cause, and are committed to building a better world. Of course, consumer behavior is not always consistent. To use a cliché, you can buy local and organic and use your smartphone, or fly back to nature in a 'fair trade' lodge.

In terms of recruitment, it is more complex. It may be more attractive to work for a company committed to cleaning up the planet than for an arms company. But what is the weight of purpose in the overall package. Recruiters find that there are different levels of sensitivity to employer's purpose, but that other aspects such as development opportunities, nature of the role, level of autonomy, salary, flexibility, etc. weigh just as much.

Moreover, when it comes to purpose, companies may demonstrate different levels of commitment from 'purpose washing' to radical transformation of the business model.

I have had the opportunity to work with executives on their personal purpose. The purpose is the sweet spot between personal values, unique strengths and the contribution one wishes to make to the world. This is a very useful exercise for leaders because it allows them to pause, as Kevin Cashman recommends in his book "The Pause Principle", and to reflect on their impact on their environment, their company and their stakeholders. Moreover, the purpose of the leaders at the top permeates the organization and influences its purpose.

But what do you say to a company that produces, detergents or cigarettes? It is worthy of respect and offers products or services that are necessary or practical or enjoyable for their users. Do you have to serve a cause to be labelled 'purpose-driven'? Is it more purpose-driven to produce an organic cereal on an industrial scale than to offer carefully crafted cigars?

As an individual, does one need to be driven by a higher cause to create a positive dynamic? And who is more purpose-driven: a leader of an arms company who is driven by a true passion to propose beautifully designed products, and encourages true collaborative work with his teams, or a leader of an ocean cleaning company who behaves like a dictator with his teams and is only interested in the bottom line?

I voluntarily use clichés but I face these questions regularly with the leaders I coach, and ... with my children, young adults today.

And you, what are you doing about your organization's and your own purpose?


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