Pundits say the Millennials started it, “it” being the search for meaning or purpose in work and in life.
Others assert that, if we replace “purpose” with “mission,” the corporate purpose – or defining the reason for being – has been a mainstay of American business for decades. It just got overlooked with new words, new fads.
Setting the “whys” aside, going beyond the bottom line has never been so popular. Themes like sustainability and corporate social responsibility are endemic – and baked into almost every business’ Web site, annual report, news releases, and the like. Changing the world is de rigueur these days, whether it was sparked by President Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric or through the latest malaises of employees.
Lofty goals, though, aren’t necessarily captured in words. [Though many of us, at times, delightedly put on our wordsmithing hats.] Case in point: Peruse a few Fortune 1000 Web sites. How many purposes are distinctive, differentiated? Do the statements truly marry what the company does with its higher goals? What words crop up … again and again and again? Finally, think about credibility; can you believe, truly believe in the ‘purpose’ statement?
If ‘no’ is the answer to the last question, then consider, carefully, the reactions of Generation Xs and Ys. If authenticity doesn’t ring loud and clear to them, the organization might need to re-purpose its meaning. Or at least research and re-jigger it. Besides, according to a study from a Yale professor of organizational behavior, not everyone wants to change the world – only about one-third of us do.
A thought: Maybe, just maybe, the meaning of purpose should be in the business actions we share, not the words we say.