Back to basics: Building a purposeful organization

By Maggie Crespo Mijares, Project Executive- Somos Quiero/ Sustainable Brands Madrid

Taking a trip back in time will place us in the context of where we are standing today: the purposeful organization. Back before the industrial revolution people tended to work on their communities, this way they could see the direct impact where they lived in. Companies set as societies within society. The industrial revolution came along, people started working for companies making them increasingly detached to where impact was held. Modern workplace as we know it was inherited from this period, factories came along making people do the same task with great efficiency and greater volume, but these spaces were not designed to honor people’s potential. Studies have proven the negative repercussion on people, their work and relations within this industrial scheme. In the words of Arthur Woods, Co-Founder, Imperative: this scheme has made people work without a level of integrity, because they have forgotten about their connection with purpose and their impact.

Today, people want to understand what is the purpose of their job, not their function. Operational excellence is no longer enough. So, we are back to the preindustrial age asking ourselves who are we working for, how does this affect my life and the life of my surrounding? We are back to basics:  in the search of purpose in our organizations.

Described in a nutshell: purpose is why you exist beyond profit. Owen Rogers, Partner of IDEO exposed how it doesn’t matter how it’s called: core value, credo, purpose…what it matters is what you are fundamentally trying to answer. “Most companies should be able to tell you what they do, some of them can tell you how they do it, but only a few can tell you why they do it.” Purpose is created by understanding the basic essence of your organization: why you were born as a company. This needs to be aligned with the strategy and provide a robust operational structure that supports its purpose.

In an organization purpose will not be able to be developed without having C-Suite leaders on board. Dr John Izzo, Best Selling Author & Business Visionary shared with us his vision on how to get real commitment from senior leaders to activate purpose and become a sustainable brand. He recognizes that when focusing on C-Suite leaders it is important to create what he calls stewardship behavior, where legacy is more powerful than altruism. Altruism, is a desire to do things better in the world, while legacy is acting in a way for future generations. According to Dr. Izzo, leaders tend to think about the impact-legacy their behavior will leave the company when they are gone. This motivates them into creating a profound sustainable impact.

A purposeful organization also includes employee engagement. Sandra Pina, Director Sustainable Brands Madrid shared with us insights about the study: Authentic Brands where she pointed out how employee engagement and organizational development if managed with a purposeful essence will boost performance. People want a job where they can develop their talent and that at the same time would fit with their own principles. It is important to take into consideration that employees are the most valuable communicators. Dr. Izzo has revealed from his studies how, within its daily work, if an employee can understand and connect between its work and its direct impact in creating change, then the company would be developing purposeful employees.

Aurelie Dumont Timberland´s Sustainability, Senior Manager EMEA, shared with us her companies approach in engaging employees towards a common purpose. She explained how the President of the company has always been convinced about the development of a sustainable organization as part of the core of the company. Considering this, he asked VP management’s and senior management levels, to have sustainability goals within their own goals. This way the management, retail, HR, financial departments, etc had to embed sustainability as an internal department objective. Aurelie reflects on the interesting shift that employees had engaging with the goals. With this shift the company was conceived as being sustainable as a whole, and understood the benefits of incorporating the sustainable approach per department. “After this, the sustainability department was seen as a resource and as a support team, people started asking how can we get there, rather than a I need to do this for you”. Timberlands employees now understand their purpose within their job that is aligned to a bigger conceptual driver for change, and they feel motivated.

Nowadays people have created parables about purpose. There is a misconception of getting to purpose by having a cause through philanthropy, or through a spiritual retreat, or if all human material needs are fulfilled. Nevertheless, as Arthur Woods pointed out in his session, if you want to find purpose, you have to seek it on your own because purpose is a choice, we make day to day. Purpose is not a revelation, is a continuous discovery process: it is a continuous journey as a human being within an organization. Pick the company you feel you share your values with, buy products from organization to which you recognize and appreciate their purpose, live consciously with a purpose: let’s go back to basics!

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By Maggie Crespo Mijares

Project Executive at Somos Quiero / Sustainable Brands Madrid