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Why Organisations Need to Find and Live Their Purpose and Four Tips to Getting There



This is our second in a series of four blogs based on the four Leadership attributes identified by Mark Carney, Head of the Bank of England, in his speech to future global leaders at Regent’s University, London on 19 February 2018. The four attributes are:


- Ambition

- Purpose

- Clarity

- Humility


Our first blog explored the biochemistry of Ambition (link). In this second blog we turn to the biochemistry of Purpose in organisations and how leaders can increase a sense of purpose for others and for themselves.


In a purposeless environment, a sense of futility pervades the culture and employees ascribe little meaning to the work they do. When that happens, dopamine, (the reward chemical), drops and cortisol, (the threat hormone), rises, compounding feelings of low reward with frustration and concern for our well-being and the well-being of others. People become distracted and confused, and the organisation runs the risk of losing top talent. The solution is simple – find and communicate your purpose.


Organisations and leaders need to have purpose and communicate that purpose in a way that generates purpose in others. As Carney says, ‘…reforms of the financial system….are helping to embed purpose…including…making culture the responsibility of the CEO and the Chair.’ Cultures don’t change by accident. Effective culture change is carefully orchestrated and is most effective when it starts at the top. To create a purpose-driven culture, leaders must define their purpose, express it and embody it.


Here are four steps leaders can take to create the biochemistry of purpose:

Define the Purpose: The Senior Executive (e.g., CEO and Chair) must first define the organisation’s purpose, ideally one in keeping with the vision and values of the organization – something attainable, possibly aspirational – the foundation upon which the organisation’s strategy will be built. This is best done collaboratively with a core team. This boosts dopamine in senior executives.


Communicate the Purpose: The Senior Executive then needs to communicate the purpose out to the business – repeatedly and passionately – through all channels, reminding people of why we are here, why the purpose is important and how (and who) we are helping. Do not assume that because it has been said ten times, and it is written in the mission statement, that everyone understands the purpose. Repetition of the core message is absolutely essential, as long as it is current. Cortisol (threat) lowers when we hear a message repeated because it gives us a feeling of certainty.


Cascade the Purpose with Stories: Responsibility for communicating the purpose extends across the leadership team. In cascading waves down through the organization, Senior Leaders need to tell and re-tell stories of how that purpose has been realised in the business. Telling stories (instead of reading a list of bullet points) helps release dopamine because when events or achievements are described in story form, especially if the story is descriptive and visual, the audience can follow the story as if they were experiencing it themselves. They then experience being part of the purpose and feel rewarded. Dopamine is boosted when we hear stories, especially when they herald good things, and we can anticipate feeling good about our achievements.


Picture Living Your Purpose: In order for the purpose to be credible and lasting, the leadership team must live the purpose. This requires a commitment. No matter how clear and strong your purpose, it takes drive to live it and resilience to bounce back when the inevitable setbacks occur. All levels of leadership need to know how to motivate themselves to keep moving forward and rebound from disappointment – a mental picture of the purpose can help. Dopamine release is very connected to the visual cortex of the brain. Therefore, if leaders have a clear picture in their mind’s eye that represents achieving the purpose, they can re-boost their own dopamine levels on demand.


Next week, we’ll address the importance of Clarity. For more information on the role of Physical Intelligence in effective leadership, please contact us through www.companiesinmotion.com.

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