29 Apr Growing Purpose Amid the COVID Crisis
I was asked during a recent interview how the COVID-19 crisis will impact the Purpose movement in organizations. With large parts of the economy shut down, unemployment rising, consumers focused on basic security and many companies struggling to survive, what does COVID-19 mean for a purpose focused company?
When I was asked the question, I hearkened back to a similar question asked of me during the financial crisis in 2008. I rightly predicted that while there might be a temporary focus on “security”, that the underlying trend towards a desire for purpose among employees and consumers would grow through and past the crisis. I have little doubt this time around that purpose will remain a large driver of employee and customer choice in the years ahead.
The Real Issue-How to Lead with Purpose NOW?
The real issue that ought to keep us up as leaders right now is: What does it mean to lead with purpose during this crisis? This past week, the Chief HR Officer of a large bank told me, “This is the time when people are really making up their mind about our purpose. For years, we have been telling our customers and team members that we exist to make lives better and now they are seeing that we meant it!” She went on to say that the years spent focusing on purpose have become a source of deep engagement as all their banking customers, both personal and corporate, struggle to survive.
Make no mistake that during this time, we as companies and as leaders are being watched. Are we there for our customers, putting purpose over profits? Do we demonstrate proactive engagement with the challenges society is facing right now? Do we demonstrate compassion for our team members and their families as they face uncertainty and fear?
The airwaves are awash with ads from companies trying to show their commitment to purpose during this time. While expressing gratitude for all of us staying home and expressing thanks for the frontline workers who are risking life for all our benefit is appropriate, it seems to me to be nothing but table stakes. Of course, we expect you to say that. What we want to know is what you are doing that is beyond the norm?
A Simple Exercise
Answering the question of what it means to go beyond the norm isn’t easy, but I am going to suggest a simple exercise to consider. Try it both for yourself as a leader and for your organization.
Write your purpose at the top of the page.
Identify the key stakeholder groups for you and for the organization. Those groups might be team members, customers, community, and business partners.
Then ask, what would it mean to live your purpose at three levels. The first level: doing what is expected of me/us, the second level: going the extra mile, the third level: going way beyond what is expected.
There is no simple or right answer to each question, but asking the question can make a big difference.
You are likely to find that stretching yourself might not be as hard as you think and that it might provide a much deeper sense of purpose than you ever imagined. Purpose and the desire for purpose will outlast this virus and may even grow as people see the direct impact that companies and leaders have on their everyday lives. But make no mistake, there will be only this one opportunity to demonstrate to all your stakeholders that your purpose is for real.
Stay well, lead with purpose.