In 1981, Indiana Jones ran, swung, and fought his way into movie theaters everywhere. Since then, the archeologist has taken audiences on numerous adventures in search of hidden treasure. You are likely familiar with the basic Jones’ storyline. After painstaking effort, dangerous encounters (“Snakes…why’d it have to be snakes”), and finding himself at the precipice of failure, Jones evades all that is stacked against him and unearths the buried treasure.
Meet a Different Type of Archeologist
If you aren’t familiar with Brad White, you should be. Brad is the President of Europe + Middle East at Brighthouse, a BCG Company. He and his Brighthouse colleagues are archeologists of a sort, who go on archeological digs with organizations to excavate for and act on purpose.
I recently had the chance to sit down and talk to Brad about purpose – what it is, why it matters, how to discover it, and how knowing it calls you to do big bold things.
At it’s foundation, purpose answers the why questions:
- Why do we do what we do?
- Why do we serve those we serve?
- Why does our work matter in the world?
Humans need oxygen, water, food, and sleep; and, according to Brad, we have a similar need for purpose. We need to make sense of things, to understand the deeper meaning, and to uncover the purpose of something.
The good news of purpose in your organization
As a natural extension of the idea that individual’s search for meaning, an organization, which is composed of people, yearns for a clear purpose too. Having one is what allows a team or organization to better understand the culture it is building, the products it creates, the services it renders, and the customers it serves.
Brad shared with me that nearly every organization, large or small, started with an implicit purpose. Someone saw a need in the world, determined that they had the ability fill the need, and put resources to work to solve the problem. Unfortunately, as time passes, changes ensue, employees come and go, and people lose the connection to the organization’s core purpose.
Brad says that when this happens, an archeologist is needed to help an organization to re-discover its purpose and then to share the purpose with others so that employees and customers can re-connect with it.
Similar to archeologists excavating for a hidden treasure, Brad is an expert at uncovering purpose.
Here’s how Brad puts it:
“We’re going to hold up a mirror so you can see yourself. Because we want you to see who you are, what is unique about you, what is your character, what’s your DNA. The purpose, when you see it, should feel like home, it should feel comfortable, it should feel cozy. But at the same time it should be slightly uncomfortable, slightly inspiring. It’s a bit of here’s who you are and the needs in the world that you solve… you have a purpose and this purpose calls you to do big bold things and to make changes”.”
Arguably, having a clear purpose can help an organization to win on key metrics like return to shareholders, revenue growth, employee engagement, and customer retention.
The bad news of purpose in your organization (there always has to be snakes)
There is a bit of a downside to excavating, discovering, and communicating your organization’s purpose – at least in the short-term. That downside is captured in the last part of Brad’s quote, “you have a purpose and this purpose calls you to do big bold things and to make changes.”
For your team or organization to live out its purpose, it will likely require that you and your colleagues make changes, some of which will be very difficult. Here are a couple of examples to get you thinking:
- Your organization may need to say ‘no’ to short-term profits. Why would you need to give up something that is profitable? Maybe a product or service you offer generates good margins, but it is misaligned with the organization’s purpose. (Brad gives a great example of this in the podcast.)
- Your organization may need to sever ties with longstanding suppliers, distributers, or others that you find yourself doing business with. Why would you need to sever some ties? Maybe that ‘cheap’ supplier engages in labor practices or product sourcing that runs counter to the articulated purpose of your business.
Take a few moments to consider these questions about yourself, your team, and your organization:
- How clear are you and your colleagues on the purpose of the organization?
- Why does your team and organization do what it does?
- Why does your team and organization serve who it serves?
- Why does your collective work matter in the world?
- What would be missing if your team and organization went away?
Considering your answers to the above questions, what should you do now?
Now, go get ’em. Best- Patrick
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.