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Bruce Holland

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The Importance of Purpose

There is a spiritual side to all human beings. I believe that every person has a role to play, a contribution to make. When people find their Purpose they are filled with energy far greater than any physical, emotional or mental energy. This energy is money in the bank.

Your organisation can magnify this energy by showing its people how together they can achieve meaning far greater than they can alone. This energy is available to every organisation although you'd hardly know it if you do business in a western society.

It's this energy you can tap into when we work together to think hard about the Purpose of your organisation.

If you and your senior team are not totally certain about how to identify your Purpose (and most can't because they are too close to it) or you don't know how to get it into every head, give me a call


In my experience many people get confused by some of the terms. To help overcome this, and to ensure that we are all using the same terminology, I have tried to describe them in simple non technical terms.

The purpose statement answers the basic questions:

  1. "Why do we exist?"

  2. "What is our reason for being?"

'Purpose is the ultimate energiser, it's like the sun. It's the thing we turn to when we need to remember why we are here.


  1. The Mission of Disney is to make people happy.

  2. The Mission of Virtual Group is to liberate the human spirit at work.

Problems with Purpose statements

In most organisations the Purpose Statement is uninspiring corporate speak. It is far too long, almost impossible to remember and will mean little or nothing to anyone at the coal face.

One of the problems of executives going off to come up with the Purpose Statement is that they slowly squeeze the life out of the words until they end up with some tepid statement about being the "market leader" or "world class" or focusing on what they do rather than why they do it.

However by far the greatest problem associated with Purpose Statements is the belief that many managers have that once they have written the Purpose statement, the job is complete. In actual fact this is the easy part and once it is completed the job has only started. Purpose statements have almost no value until they are in the heads of every single person in the organisation. They need not only to be in every head, but they also need to be there so strongly that the people will take action and move according to the Purpose statement. To achieve this they have to, not only understand it, but believe in it with a passion and with intensity.

A great deal of the work that I do is about getting this level of passion and intensity into every single head in the organisation. When this is achieved the organisation has such power that it has to be seen to be believed.

For a Purpose statement to be effective, individuals and teams throughout the organisation must understand it and see its implications for their job.

There are many companies with no purpose other than to make money, no passion, no love or respect for the customer, no drive, no point of view, no character, no integrity (in the sense of wholeness). They are under extreme pressure to make money, often for overseas owners. They have lost the reason the brand existed. Confusion, lack of direction, disillusionment results; they don't know who they are.

This is a pity because people want to be part of an organisation that is going somewhere meaningful.

"Early on we recognised that there is a burning need for people to feel part of a an ennobling purpose. If it is absent they will seek fulfilment only in outside interest instead of their work."

Bill O'Brian CEO Hanover Insurance

Who cares? Why is this important?

There is a direct business cost. If you're confused on the inside, then you become confused on the outside. If you lack leadership on the inside, you lack leadership on the outside. So it is no surprise that customers see the organisation as wishy- washy and undifferentiated. Confusion saps energy.

There is the people cost, i.e. the wasted potential of employees who need a Purpose they can support and identify with. Human beings need to live with a constant sense of meaning and purpose. We are meaning seekers and meaning makers. If we attach meaning to what we do, we feel significant and connected to the organisation and our co- workers. In a driving, profit-focused company, it's difficult to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction, because, as a matter of principle, what a company wants its customers to feel, its employees must feel first. If you want your customers to feel nurtured, cared for, inspired, then employees must first feel nurtured, cared for and inspired.

Teams with a common purpose

  1. Work for a cause
  2. Get satisfaction at work
  3. Need to know how contribution adds to the organisation
  4. Describe work in terms of outcomes.

Teams with no common purpose

  1. Work for the money
  2. Get satisfaction outside work
  3. Not sure or interested in how their contribution adds to the organisation
  4. Describe work in terms of activitiy.

When to use Purpose Statements

  1. When managers and/or staff seem unclear why we are in business
  2. When new products/services are being developed that are outside the core
  3. Falling sales, profits, customers
  4. When energy levels are low
  5. When you find yourself lurching from crisis to crisis
  6. If your environment has changed
  7. When managers understand the Purpose but staff have no interest or knowledge about it
  8. If managers and staff have no common understanding of the Purpose.

Probable outcomes of Purpose

  1. Far more focus on what really matters
  2. Everyone working to the same agenda
  3. People working hard on the focused core of the business rather dissipated effort
  4. More energy

More collaboration and participation because everyone understands their role.

In a word ... the whole organisation becomes energised with the power of meaning and spirit!

For more details on Purpose...

Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZ's most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work
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