Zach’s Blog

Stop Making “Purpose” a Fad: 3 Signs You Really Don’t Know What Purpose Is

With all of the talk, LinkedIn blog posts, and Forbes’ articles about Millennials needing purpose at work, “purpose” itself seems to be losing its alluring and existentially-critical luster.

Purpose is becoming a business fad.

This is sad.

This is dangerous.

Especially, if we don’t know what purpose really means.

This is why I believe it is so vital to distinguish between authentic purpose and the all-too-common “phony” purpose.

The definition of authentic purpose comes from…wait for it…the dictionary.

Authentic means…

“…not false or copied; genuine; real.”

Purpose means…

“…the reason for which something exists.”
Authentic purpose, then means, an original sense of why you or your organization exists on the planet.

Why do you (not your friends or competitors) exist on planet Earth?

Why your organization?

If your specific organization didn’t exist in the world, what would people be missing in their lives?

These are big questions. The answers and the power of them to transform every “thing” that you and your organizations do is bigger.

If you can’t truly answer these questions, you may not be ready to wrangle with the concept of authentic purpose, let alone add it into your recruitment marketing slogan.

The Millennial job seekers can wait.

Taking the time for this deep individual and collective reflection will help your purpose vibrantly live in the hearts of current and future employees (and yourself) instead of dying a silent death in the filing cabinet.

Here are a few signs that you may not know what purpose really means.

1. You recycle, have no idea why, but still like telling people that you recycle.

I am sort of joking, but am also really not. I once asked a group of professionals, “How have you changed the world today?” Of course, I got a “I recycled a soda can” response. Then, I asked, “Why?” The man said, “I don’t know… it’s just good to do.”

It’s “just” good to do? Are you kidding?

What I wanted to hear was: “I committed to prolonging the life of this interstellar collection of matter that just happens to be orbiting a star at the perfect velocity and at the perfect distance to support your’s and everyone’s life you have ever known and will know… so I threw away this can.”

Imagine how psyched up that guy would have been to recycle that can had he believed this – instead, “it was just a good thing to do.”

If the majority of people (including myself) can’t even understand the purpose of daily tasks, how could we possibly understand the reason for existence of an entire organization?

2. You think someone else can tell you what your purpose is.

When I bring up the idea of authentic purpose as a business strategy in workshops, I can’t tell you how many times a prospective client or attendee has said, “…oh, someone is coming in to do the mission and vision stuff next month,” or “…well, we just had a retreat to rewrite our mission.”

No one else can tell you why you and your organization exist.

And, if you think you can uncover your reason for existence on a planet in a 4-hour Panera-catered meeting, you may be further from where you even started.

Finding authentic purpose takes time. It takes listening. It takes feeling. It is an ongoing reevaluation of “Wait, why do we exist?” and”What would happen to the world, to people, if we weren’t here?”

Weave these questions into one-on-ones, into training, into weekly meetings. Ask your customers, ask your new employees – the response will be inspiring.

3. You have a purpose statement to look cool.

If you are just creating some dynamic social purpose statement for your organization to attract employees, then that’s all it will ever be: A marketing slogan.

Viktor Frankl once said,

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”

The collective dedication to an authentic purpose outside of the self creates the conditions for results. Recruiting new employees is a result. Retaining employees is a result. Profit is a result. They are not your purpose.

Confusing results with purpose seems common. Does your team chase results or chase a purpose and achieve results as a side effect?

When you and your organization take the time to define and live a higher organizational purpose, the results follow.

– Zach

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