Andrew Thornton on the purpose of a Higher Purpose

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“The way we are working in organisations isn’t working”

Discuss! Let’s look at two key facts.  First, according to Gallup, 87% of people who work in organisations globally are emotionally disconnected from their work.  Given the percentage of the world’s population that work in organisations and how much time we spend working, this is a shocking statistic. And maybe explains the level of global turbulence that exists right now.

And secondly, a report – Thinking the Unthinkable A New Imperative for Leadership in the Digital Age – for the the Churchill Foundation by Nik Gowing and Chris Langdon, showed that many business and other leaders where overwhelmed and unsure how to respond to the challenges they are facing. I believe that this overwhelm is in part due to the fact that many business leaders have lost touch with what really matters to them personally and are caught up in chasing short-term profits and reacting to the demands (perceived and real) of the city.

If I look at the vision or mission statements of many companies, I can see why that might be – so many are a version of “producing the best possible widget for our customers”. Contrast this to the Apple mission under Steve Jobs that helped them become the highest capitalised company in the world – ”To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

Contrast that to their current vision that starts “ Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world….” . and so on. And while they remain phenomenally successful, they have slipped off that number one slot.

I believe that if a companies board cannot get excited and inspired by its own mission statement(purpose), then there is little chance of them leading a thriving organisation . The work we do at Heart in Business Limited is all about getting leaders in touch with their higher purpose and getting leadership teams in a place where everyone is fulfilled by their work. From this place of personal fulfilment and purpose, leaders can help develop a higher purpose for their organisation that inspires people to go that extra mile. As humans, we all want to contribute and make a difference and are much more motivated working for a company that sets out its stall to do that. I certainly have had numerous team members at Thornton’s Budgens say they love working for a company that has a focus beyond making as much profit as possible – “We are the Community Supermarket that really cares.”

So it is not surprising that all the documentary evidence I have seen suggests that organisations that do look beyond short term profits are actually more profitable. Let me end with one more example, Unilever – “Our mission is to meet everyday needs for nutrition, home hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life.”  This certainly motivates their CEO Paul Polman, who takes an even higher perspective when he says “We cannot close our eyes to the challenges that the world faces. Business must make an explicit and positive contribution to addressing them. I’m convinced we can create a more equitable and sustainable world for all of us by doing so”.

Now Unilever are far from perfect, and as a global organisation employing 175,000 people, they will not always live up to this vision. Yet it certainly is a major move towards creating something more meaningful.

And I have no doubt that if all businesses had a higher purpose and if all CEO’s looked at the world the way Paul Polman does, not only would the world be a better and happier place, businesses would be thriving and more profitable within that better and happier place.

With heart,

Andrew Isaac Thornton