The power of purpose – Inspire teams, engage customers, transform business

Authors: John O’Brien and Andrew Cave

Review by: Ian Pettigrew

NOMINATED FOR THE BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS 2018

We can intuitively spot the people and businesses who are driven by a deep sense of purpose and this book can help you to become one of those.

Some of my take-aways from the book:

Why you need purpose:
We seem to have moved on from the previous obsession with ‘shareholder value’ with organisations now seeking to find a much deeper purpose. As Charles Handy articulated so clearly, optimising shareholder value should be the consequence, not the purpose, of a well-run business. Much of our thinking around purpose isn’t new as the histories of the Cadbury, Lever, and Pilkington families demonstrate. Purpose is important at both a corporate and individual level and this is much broader than CSR. Purpose shows up in decision-making, it drives sustainable success, and helps to connect with the public, customers, and potential and current employees.

Find your purpose:
The obsession with focusing on an exit strategy has often acted as a distraction from focusing on purpose. Our individual journeys play a huge role in shaping our purpose. Turning our purpose into reality isn’t a simple step but this process of ‘activating purpose for good’ is vital.

Define your world:
It isn’t sufficient to have purpose in isolation, we need to understand how our purpose fits into the world it serves. Looking at things in this way, we might get clearer on what it is about the world that we want to change and the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) can be a helpful focus for this thinking.

Make it real:
“Culture gets its appetite from purpose” and it is helpful to work through identifying the business purpose, its ambition, its commitment (to how it will operate), and its strategic aims. The book covers practical methods for running purpose definition workshops

Create your culture:
We need to decide what the culture is and establish strong values and compliance, creating rituals and communication to ensure that everybody (employees, customers, suppliers, etc.) truly ‘get it’.

Inspire others:
To quote the old African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”. This isn’t about one person or a leadership team defining and living a purpose. There is much we need to do to encourage broad-based action and to empower purpose-based practices.

Live life and prosper:
If we want purpose to be a true driver, then we have to be authentic and lead by example.

Who would I recommend this book to?
In the interests of being 100% honest in my book review, I’ll admit that I’d already decided by the end of the first chapter that this wasn’t my kind of book. I love books that are well-referenced and dive deep into case studies, and this isn’t a book full of references. And, whilst it quotes lots of case studies, they are the obvious ones (Waitrose, Virgin, etc.) and there isn’t a deep dive into them.

However, I took a lot from this book and I’m glad I read it. I tend to be naturally driven by purpose, so the book resonated intuitively but also got me thinking about loads of ideas and opportunities that I had maybe missed. This book has a lot to say about wider societal and social purpose than just our ‘why’. I’ve scribbled all over my copy (including the exercises at the end of each chapter) and I’m going to re-read it with some other thoughts in mind.

Recommended for people who work in HR/L&D as well as leaders in organisations of any size.

Ian Pettigrew, Kingfisher Coaching – www.kingfishercoaching.com

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