How can purpose be a driver for sustainable performance?

Aug 8, 2021

In an era defined by rapid change and unprecedented challenges, the article delves into the multifaceted landscape of our modern world.


The volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) that characterise our times underscores the imperative for individuals and organisations to adapt through vertical development—enhancing their capacity to navigate complexity with agility and foresight. This exploration takes us through the existential threats posed by the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, urging a collective reevaluation of capitalism’s sustainability and the pursuit of a more equitable and ecologically sound economic model.

Speed of change

Amidst VUCA world we live in and the exponential rate of change that we’re already experiencing. We need to find ways to deal with uncertainty in a better way and to be able to navigate greater complexity (Vertical development of people)

Existential crisis

Climate crisis and the sixth extinction is a reality. So even if you’re very conscious about this or are on the other side of the camp and are a climate denier, we’re all influenced by this field of concern for coming generations, be it consciously or unconsciously. Capitalism has given us a lot of prosperity in many parts of the world, and we can also clearly see the damage that the quest for profit has caused us and the planet. That system isn’t sustainable, and we need to develop a new one that nurtures the whole planet, not just a minority.

The quest for meaning

We’re all meaning-making beings. For thousands of years, life has been predictable and mainly built on traditions. This isn’t the case anymore. Traditions are fading and religion plays a less important role in people’s lives. The system provided meaning before and meaning came from the outside. Now we’re turning our gaze inwards and looking for intrinsic motivation and purpose. This gives us a lot of good things. Resilience, fulfilment, coping better with change, higher levels of ethics and a deeper sense of meaning. So how can purpose/meaning be a driver for a long-term performance? Before we come back to that, let’s look at some of the data.

“Executives from companies that treat purpose as a core driver of strategy and decision- making reported greater ability to drive successful innovation and transformational change.”

EY: The Business Case for Purpose

Research found that a leader with purpose can be defined as: “A leader who defines success in terms of the legacy they will leave, the impact they intend to make in achieving both financial and business objectives, and more widely in terms of impact at the team, organisational and stakeholder level. A leader with purpose is concerned to align their personal values with their definition of success, and achieve a sense of meaning and wellbeing in attaining their goals.”

Purpose-driven companies with humanistic values outperformed the S&P 500 by 14 times over 15 years.
(Source: Sisodia, R., Jag Sheth, and David B. Wolfe, 2007. Firms of Endearment. WhartonSchool Publishing: Philadelphia.)

75% of business leaders say ‘capital P purpose’ creates value in the short-term and the long-term. How does it create value? At the top of the list is building greater customer loyalty (52%), followed by preserving brand value and reputation (51%), attracting and retaining top talent (42%) and developing innovative new products and services (40%)
(Source: EY, 2017)

Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees we surveyed said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic. Millennials were three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work.
(Source: McKinsey report April 2021)

If purpose-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 14 times and 50% of US based employees are reconsidering the work they do, this is a clear indication of the important role that purpose plays in business today. So, how come not all companies provide their people with the opportunity to find their purpose? Part of the reason is that leaders don’t feel comfortable talking about purpose or they don’t recognise that people have this need. Staff still hold the common view that they are a resource that the company uses to execute its goals and strategies. Staff aren’t seen to have the potential to do great things.

The conventional way for most leaders to deal with problems/opportunities is to throw a hell of a lot of energy at the problem and solve it by doing a lot. Another way would be to start performing through being, to start operating from your purpose and values, from your true self or your authentic self. It’s a more effortless and joyful way of performing and also a more challenging way. Mainly because it’s challenging the assumption Am I enough? Will life provide if I am true to myself and act from my purpose? This is a very human way of looking at people as having potential and is the way forward for organisations. If we want to see a more fair, ecological and compassionate world, we need to let people look inside.

Sadhguru puts it nicely and simple in his quote:

“The only way out is in.”

Lasse Wrenmark

Leadership Companion, Sweden

Lasse is a specialised consultant in culture change, leadership development, teambuilding and executive coaching. He has devised a number of transformation and culture change projects, strategy & refocusing workshops, coach the coach programmes. Lasse is an appreciated keynote speaker in the field of leadership and change. His ability to engage an audience with his authentic style and story-telling ability has led him to speak around the world including with and for the Mexican Government and top leaders in the Attorney General Office.

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