How Purpose Drives Our Company

Why Contributing to the “Grand Human Drama” Is Important for Every Business

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Nicaragua. August 2017 Journey. 

When we recently moved into our new office, the very first thing we did was hang a poster that outlines our mission and values. You can’t miss it – it’s the first thing everyone sees when they come in and the last thing we see when we leave.

But the words on this poster aren’t just phrases we cobbled together because that’s what companies are supposed to do. Rather, at Ignite, we make almost all of our decisions on the foundational principles that are outlined on that poster. Our mission and values come to life every day — in our interviewing and hiring, promotions and raises, how we put together and execute our journeys, and what we want to stand for in the world. We published them on one of the first pages of our website and we identify and celebrate living examples of them every day. To say we’ve benefited from spending so much time and effort on our mission and values early on would be an understatement.

It would be easy to say that the reason we did this is because we are inherently mission driven. Yes, purpose and profit are tied hand in hand for us – our journeys naturally develop stronger leaders and teams while making the world a better place. But that’s not why we spent so much time on it. Rather, our reasoning was simple – it’s just good business. Most importantly, defining our mission and values upfront helps to provide our employees’ purpose and meaning in their work – to know that they are contributing to something bigger. It helps our customers know that we genuinely care about helping them create a diverse and thriving workplace through our journeys. It helps us stay focused, aligned and working toward the same guiding light. There is obviously much more that goes into building a great company than just defining and living a common purpose, but both fledgling startups and established companies (with and without an inherent social purpose) have something to benefit from doing so.

Employees Expect Purpose

In a different life, I was an early founder of a fast-growing tech company that we built from 5 to 125 in less than 2 years. We invested in a lot of things and spent good money trying to engage, recognize and develop our employees. Yet we still suffered heavily from high turnover and low engagement (globally, only 13% of employees are engaged in their job). In retrospect, what we failed to provide was a real mission – a common purpose for being there. What our employees were looking for (as was I) was an opportunity to contribute to something bigger than ourselves and make a real impact. And today, employees don’t just expect it – they are demanding it. Their career decisions are driven towards companies that have the foresight and character to provide it. It’s why IBM gives top employees a month to do service abroad – employees there are expecting that they’ll have the opportunity to make a real impact (both at their job and outside of it).

Helps to Recruit and Retain Top Talent

According to Gallup, even a relatively small improvement in employees’ connection with the purpose of their organization can result in an 8% decrease in turnover. Employees are more likely than ever to seek out organizations that prioritize purpose. Millenials (who will comprise 75% of the workforce in 2025) will even take a pay cut to work at company that prioritizes this, while 79% of people prefer to work at a company that is socially responsible. None of this should come as a surprise – when people feel part of a larger community, and when employees are invested in the mission and purpose of their company, it’s common sense that they’d be more likely to stay.

Purpose-Driven Companies Have Happier and More Productive Employees

When employees are connected to a company’s purpose and have meaning in their work, they perform better. Positive-psychology theorists suggest that a sense of purpose is a key indicator in understanding why some people thrive and others do not. This sense of purpose connects them more easily to others in the workplace, a major contributor to employee happiness. And it doesn’t take citing the hundreds of articles that reference it to know that happier employees are more productive (although if you are looking – happier employees can lead to a 12% increase in productivity).

This is all summed up so powerfully in Phil Knight’s (amazing) memoir on the creation of Nike:

“We wanted…to create, to contribute, and we dared to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the life of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is – you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama.”

Despite the struggles and admitted failings of Nike, Phil Knight held onto that purpose and desperately tried to inject it into every interaction that the company had. Today, Nike is not just an athletic apparel business, it is an enduring and admired brand, whose employees and customers feel part of the important movements that are benefiting humanity and the planet. That is the power of purpose – to allow people to contribute to the grand human drama. It’s why we spent so much time early on defining our purpose here at Ignite, and why we’ll continue to prominently display and bring to life our mission and values every single day. 

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