Lack Of Purpose Is Killing Your Business. Here’s How To Find One.

How do you bring more purpose to your business? And why have a purpose at all? These and other questions are the subject of The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage In An Age of Social Good. Written by John Izzo and Jeff VanderWielen, the book is a must-read for entrepreneurs and business leaders who are looking for a truly authentic purpose that is a natural fit for them and their organization.

With this in mind, we reached out to Dr. Izzo. An adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, the American-Canadian author has written eight other bestselling books, spoken to over one million people, and advised over 500 companies. His clients have included IBM, Qantas, the Mayo Clinic, Microsoft and McDonald’s. We talked about what’s changed since he and his co-author published the book in 2018, the importance of meaningful work to millennials and Gen Z, and his new podcast, The Way Forward Regenerative Conversations. The following is excerpts from our conversation.

The idea of purpose in business is taking hold

The Helm: What has changed in the five years since you published The Purpose Revolution, either in the types of companies or the number of companies that approaching you?

John Izzo: There’s a saying in change that everything is slow until it’s not. And I feel that’s kind of what’s happened in the last decade, and maybe more in the last four or five years, where there’s been an explosion of interest in the idea of purpose, of companies identifying and having a purpose be a north star, a purpose that’s bigger than making money or even meeting clients’ needs.

You can argue that there have always been missions, values, and visions. These things are all cousins, and ancestors, of the purpose movement. What’s different about purpose is this idea of asking: what does our company ultimately revolve around? Why do we exist? “Purpose” is a word that’s taken ahold in organizational circles and the idea is really accelerating.

The levels of ways that it takes life in companies varies. For some, it truly does become the sun around which the company orbits. For others it’s just a nice thing that appears on the website, but in daily conversation in a company you say, “That does not really feel like what we’re doing.” And everything in between. But one way to think about it is that the bell curve is moving. The number of companies who now are taking this seriously has grown and the number that are taking it somewhat seriously has grown.

TH: Is social media accelerating the idea of purpose in business?

JI: Social media allows companies to reach out to shape their brand and who they are in the world in a more active way. But, depending on the research, we still only believe about 16 percent of what companies tell us about themselves. The belief factor is very low.

One thing that means is that even companies that are doing good and are purpose-driven have to really think about how to authentically tell that story in a way that resonates, that is digestible and believable. While we only believe 16 percent of what a company says about itself, we believe 75 percent of what an employee says about their company. Having your own people believe in your purpose, believe that you care about the good of the community and your clients and customers, not just about profits, and able to tell that story effectively is a really important metric for companies to measure.

I always say, “You need to know the level of belief your people have in your purpose and the fact that you guys care about benefitting society and your clients and customers. They’re the ones whom people are going to believe if they say it is or isn’t so.”

The Purpose Revolution has to start at the top

TH: How much of purpose is driven from the bottom, from employees wanting it, rather than the top?

JI: Surely, most successful purpose endeavors are driven from the top and informed by everyone. If it isn’t driven by the top, it probably won’t happen. If the top doesn’t really believe in it, live in it, breathe it, make it a priority, then it’s probably not going to take life, no matter how much the bottom may be desperate for it.

Starting in in the ‘90s, I tried to make the case that doing good would be good for business. Today, one of three employees is purpose-focused and use that as a major screen of why they go to work for someone. In a 2021 study by Deloitte, “meaningful work” was the top reason Gen Z and millennials said they stay at a job and would turn down another offer.

TH: Do you want to say something about your podcast, The Way Forward Regenerative Conversations, and what you’re up to currently?

JI: At this stage of my life, I have a very simple purpose. It will sound big, but I don’t mean it to sound big from an ego perspective. And that is, to help accelerate the shift of consciousness and behavior required for humanity and the planet to thrive, now and in the future. When I get up in the morning I ask myself, What small part can I play in accelerating the way of thinking and behavior that will make that true?

My podcast, which we just started a few months ago [August 2022], is really about exploring how things have to change for that to happen. We explore everything from agriculture, to forestry, to the role of business, to AI, to democracy and governance.

What I want to do, and I think almost all of my books do in a way, is to get people thinking differently about what’s possible, and how the system needs to be hacked, whether it’s their individual system as a leader or the system as a whole.

To find out more about Dr. John Izzo, visit him here.

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