- A compelling organizational purpose drives employees to engage with the company and work toward a common goal
- Purpose, or lack of one, can seriously impact employee creativity
- To maximize creativity, every company should make it a point to clearly communicate its purpose, values, and mission statement
In Start with Why, Simon Sinek points out that “Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders—in that order.” How do we inspire happy employees willing to look for new and better ways to make customers happy? Start by giving them something purposeful to work toward.
Importance of An Organizational Purpose In Motivating Employees
An organizational purpose answers the question “Why do we do what we do?” A meta-analysis from the Harvard Business Review led them to declare unequivocally that “why we work determines how well we work.” And there are plenty of case studies to prove this. LEGO, Apple, Starbucks, and Schwab were all famously reinvigorated by their CEOs recommitting to the organizational purpose.
In a McKinsey report, 82% of responding employees said it’s important to have a company purpose and 72% said that purpose should receive more weight in decision making than profit. That’s because organizational purpose is a great motivator for employees.
Employees with strong intrinsic motivation are more engaged, take more initiative, and are more creative than their counterparts. More importantly, people’s innate creativity is more likely to become useful innovation when it is focused on achieving the organization’s purpose. The reasons for this become clear when we consider the journey a creative idea takes to become an innovation.
From Creativity to Innovation: How Organizational Purpose Affects the Idea Journey
Not all creativity is useful in business. It can even become a distraction, if it isn’t focused on achieving the organization’s purpose more fully or in a faster, more efficient way. A potentially useful creative idea is born when an employee recognizes an opportunity. But it’s tough to get inspired by work that exists only to turn a profit. It’s a compelling organizational purpose that feeds people’s intrinsic motivation to come up with novel ideas and solutions that can become beneficial innovations.
In the second phase of the Idea Journey, the creative idea is shared with others. This requires a high level of psychological safety where employees feel safe bringing up and responding to challenges to the new idea and suggestions for improving it. Nonetheless, there is always some level of risk in sharing a new idea with others, and viewing the idea as connected to something bigger (i.e. delivering on the purpose) gives people an incentive to take that risk. The organizational purpose at this stage also keeps feedback focused and people aligned as they shape the idea further.
When the creative idea is ready to share more broadly with people who have the authority to give it the go-ahead, the organizational purpose is also important. An idea that is aligned with the company’s purpose naturally has an advantage in overcoming the inertia of the status quo. It makes it easier to express the idea’s relevance, show how it is aligned with priorities, and justify the allocation of resources.
Finally, people must work together to turn a creative idea into an innovation. During the implementation phase, seeing the connection between the new process, practice, product or service and the organizational purpose engages employees, increasing the likelihood they will put forth their best efforts.
Why Do We Need to Write Down Our Organizational Purpose?
A written-out purpose is the first step in communicating the organizational purpose and inspiring intrinsic motivation within employees.
Leaders at every level of the organization are key to bringing the purpose to life by consistently incorporating it into their communication and by clearly connecting people’s tasks to achieving that purpose. They can’t do that if they aren’t completely clear on exactly what the purpose is.
Crafting a Purpose that Promotes Creativity In The Workplace
A great way to start is to involve employees directly, even if you think that everyone in your organization already understands the purpose. In fact, one way to test that hypothesis is to simply ask people to write down what they think the organizational purpose is. You may be surprised at the variation in responses.
You can also start by asking workers at all levels what they find meaningful in their work. Together, also try answering some of the following questions:
- Why does the company exist – what problem does it solve for people?
- Who are we helping by doing it?
- Why does it matter?
- What values does the company and/or its founders believe in?
As you gather responses, the organizational purpose should begin to emerge. With the “what” and “why” clear, employees will be inspired to find better answers to the question of “how” – using their creativity to drive the innovation that can help organizations achieve and sustain success.