Editor's note: Brian O'Neill, CMSWire Contributor and former chief client officer for FIS, wrote for CX and other teams in his former organization a series of articles. Each were titled, “The Path ... " with each edition being a new take. For example, he would discuss culture, leadership, ownership, purpose, etc. In his six-plus years in his CX role, he sent out 286 notes with the intention to empower, reinforce and frame his company's mission by sharing insights to help his team improve its game and increase its level of engagement in what it wanted to accomplish. He revives some of these notes and adds some current perspective in this Fall/Winter 2022/2023 CMSWire series.

We highlighted “purpose” on multiple occasions as the subject for The Path, and it may beg the question as to why? Exactly. It was the why we were not only solving for, but also trying to ensure that our colleagues understood the importance of having purpose. 

So, think of it as purpose. On purpose. 

The Why Behind Purpose

In this updated take it’s important to note just how important the why is to your team and how that translates into the market. I mean, the why is exactly what we seek when we define our purpose — both as individuals and as leaders for the enterprises we run.

Purpose is the reason (insert: the why) for which something exists or is done with an intended or desired result. In other words, what it is we aim to accomplish and why it is so important.

The why, it turns out, is more critical today than ever. Moreover, it complements The Path . . . to Caring as we strive to not only ensure a corporation has a persona, but one that helps attract, engage and retain its colleagues as they seek to achieve a greater purpose. 

With it comes the challenge to not only articulate the why, but to ensure it is authentic. In other words, not just words, but action. Not just a passive statement, but a movement that drives something bigger than any individual.

Related Article: The Path to Excellence, Part 1: Guide for CX Leaders Begins Again

Taking Measurement of Purpose

To help frame its importance, there is a “Purpose Power Index,” and it exists to measure how a company commits to purpose beyond profit, with a focus on improving lives while creating a better society and world that supersedes the interests of shareholders.

You know – purpose measured.

More importantly, do you know your mission statement? Or, is your instinct to open a new browser window and take a look? So, what did you find? Were you able to find anything that resembled a mission statement or the true purpose of your enterprise?

Interestingly, the No. 1 company on the list, Seventh Generation, which is wholly owned by Unilever, does not make you search or click to find their purpose — it is font and center ... to transform the world into a healthy, sustainable, and equitable place for the next seven generations.

Oh, and they sell cleaning products, probably not the first thing that would come to mind as a company oriented around purpose and a clearly stated mission to transform the world. I suspect that the Top 20 list shown here may actually provide a few surprises — General Electric or Toyota anyone?

While I’ll spare you the methodology of the survey, the list may very well hold some hope for those that are feeling a bit lost or in need of a clear purpose. In other words, “if these companies can do it, why can’t we?”

Related Article: The Path to Excellence, Part 3: Culture Is No Accident

Bad Communication = Less Impactful Purpose

So, what has been holding your enterprise back from making purpose impactful? In a not so shocking twist, communication, or lack thereof, tends to be the biggest cause. 

Put simply, purpose is not trickling down through the layers inside of most companies. This, in turn, has been creating a chasm known as the “purpose gap” within corporate America.

Learning Opportunities

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the data suggests that the senior management team is far more engaged and purpose-aware than middle managers and front-line workers. This creates an environment where those that are most needed to achieve the mission of the company, are the ones lacking the connected tissue to make it happen.

The communication challenge is then compounded by a lack of clarity and limited examples of activation — those instances that fully demonstrate the purpose in motion. 

Why is this being missed? Because it is work. 

More precisely, it is work that is often not valued because it is not seen to actually provide the growth, the cost take-out, the margin expansion, that is so desperately sought in the modern, fast-paced demands of running a successful enterprise. 

We Are Doing It Wrong

Have you ever stopped and wondered if the Costanza Theory were true? You know, where you do the exact opposite of what you would normally do, and it creates shockingly positive outcomes? And yes, this is a Seinfeld reference, but bear with me. 

Too often, the time, effort or energy is not put forth to truly celebrate when the purpose is being met or the team has rallied in a way to drive an outcome that perhaps positively impacts a community (people or geography). 

This miss takes the story of the company and mutes it — people love stories, they listen to stories, they lean in to stories. Oh, and the salespeople, they really love stories because clients love stories, and yet here we are ... story-less. 

If purpose is the reason (insert: the why) for which something exists or is done with an intended or desired result, and we don’t celebrate it, share it, make it known, what have we really accomplished?

Having a great resignation issue? Seeing people quietly quitting? Not attracting or retaining the talent you need to drive said growth, perhaps a very minor investment in your purpose coupled with an intentional investment in time to share the story may just help you.

At the same time, it may just help others. 

George would be proud, and no, you cannot make a contribution to the Human Fund and call it a day.

Enjoy the journey.