Psychologists define purpose as an ongoing intention toward a goal that is meaningful on a personal level, but also leaves a positive mark on the world.
However, rather than just being solely the goal or destination, purpose is a journey and a practice.
It could be campaigning for equality or animal welfare. Actively speaking out against racism. Joining the growing collective of people urging for climate change action and environmental protection. It could be as simple and easy as reducing the amount of plastic you use, or turning more toward a plant-based diet.
Or, like Living on Purpose, helping to lift up those in our community who are struggling.
As we navigate the twists and turns of life, having community or beyond-the-self purpose helps centre us and leads to many positive outcomes. Young people report having greater happiness and life satisfaction, which in turn lead to better educational achievements. Adults have better cognitive function, lower stress levels and better quality of life. Ultimately, having a strong sense of purpose gives us focus, fulfilment, and a more positive outlook on life.
So how do we go about finding our purpose?
IDENTIFYING OUR PERSONAL PURPOSE
Imagine your ideal world. If you had the power to improve the world, what would you change? Think about realistic steps you can take to move yourself closer to those goals.
Imagine your ideal self. Project yourself 10 to 20 years in the future. What do you see yourself doing? What are the priorities in your life? What do you care most about? Your answers can guide you to taking the first steps towards your goal.
Clarify your values. Working out what matters most to you can help you zero in on a purpose goal. Try an assessment test such as this.
Identify your skills and strengths. Know what you excel at, so you can narrow your focus in identifying a personal purpose. Ask your family and friends who know you best, or take this test.
What if I still don’t know? Explore different causes. Become a volunteer with non-profits. This is an easy way to quickly find out what gives your life purpose. Explore as broad a range of causes as you can. It’s also an excellent way to connect with like-minded people who can be part of your purpose journey.
THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN COMPANY
Evolutionarily, purpose seems to have developed as a way for humans to cooperate and accomplish greater good for the community. The whole, as they say, is greater than the sum of its parts.
Increasingly, we are seeing more companies and businesses choosing to be driven by purpose.
In Singapore, we’re excited to see initiatives like VWithPurpose, through which Volkswagen empowered inspiring individuals and social enterprises to help them pursue their purpose.
Through its e-commerce grocery platform, the Kindness Mart channels all proceeds to helping the needy with basic health and home care.
And then there’s The Fashion Pulpit, a clothes swapping service that seeks to reduce clothing waste as well as the water and energy resources associated with the manufacture of clothing.
Elsewhere in the world, there are social enterprises like TOMS, which donates a pair of shoes to charity for every pair bought. Thankyou donates 100% of their profits to helping impoverished communities access safe water and sanitation.
Reducing clothing waste and landfill is the core purpose behind Upparel, which collects and repurposes old clothing while also selling funky socks. Also with a mind to sustainable practices is Patagonia, which switched to organic cotton for their clothes in 1996 and is working with farmers to practise regenerative organic farming.
PURPOSE DRIVES MORE THAN PROFITS
Companies are seeing real benefits in embracing purpose.
Joint research from EY and Harvard Business Review found that companies that operate with a clear and driving sense of purpose, beyond the goal of just making money, outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 10 between 1996 and 2011.
Apart from being a core differentiator, purpose helps build organisational reputation, builds trust, heightens employee engagement and retention, and increases customer loyalty.
Consumers, particularly Millennials and Gen Zs, pay close attention to the values and social responsibilities of the brands they buy. Four out of five would be willing to pay more if a brand raised its prices to be more environmentally and socially responsible, or to pay higher wages to its employees.
A Forbes global study tellingly shows that customers are four to six times more likely to buy from, trust, champion, and defend companies with a strong purpose. The same study also revealed the eight key attributes of a purposeful brand that consumers will happily align themselves with:
- Fair treatment of all employees
- Products or services that reflect the needs of people today
- Ethical and sustainable business practices
- Support for important social causes
- Creation of new job opportunities
- Diverse & inclusive culture
- Issue advocacy
- Strong set of values
IT STARTS AT THE TOP
There is a push for companies to shift from shareholder capitalism to a broader, stakeholder capitalism, by demonstrating a purpose beyond profit. Leaders that drive this change start by putting people at the heart of all their decisions – from who they hire and how they develop them, to who they want to be for their customers, and how they engage the communities in which they work.
It isn’t enough to just talk about purpose-led initiatives; companies need to be accountable and transparent. Salesforce has a commitment to equality in their company, striving for 50% of their US workforce to comprise under-represented groups. Their reports and statistics are available on their website. Unilever has a report card that shows the progress of their three big goals under their Sustainable Living Plan.
Authenticity is key as it engenders trust – an essential asset in a world where the speed of social media allows the public to bring immediate attention to a brand’s unfulfilled promises.
EMBRACING PURPOSE IN A POST-COVID WORLD
‘The pandemic has caused great uncertainty,’ says queen of purpose Carol Cone, ‘but it has also made a few things clearer: how deeply we are all interconnected. How inequality threatens business-as-usual. And how companies with a deeply embedded purpose outperform the market and earn respect by responding with humanity and agility.’
Most Millennials and Gen Zs already have a strong sense of personal responsibility. The pandemic has made them more sympathetic to the plight of others in need, and many have said they will take more positive action in their communities once restrictions are lifted.
According to Michele Parmele, Deloitte Global Chief Purpose and People Officer, these younger generations ‘continue to push for a world in which businesses and governments mirror that same commitment to society, putting people ahead of profits and prioritizing environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and income equality.’
While we navigate a post-COVID world, while things are still shifting and morphing, it is the perfect time for everyone – individuals, businesses, corporations, governments – to think about who they want to be, what matters most to them, and the purpose that will define them.