Organizations, who are trying to find their own purpose. Employees who ask for meaning, because they want to make sure they spend their lifetime on something that matters.
The questions point back to the one who asks: what is MY value? How can I/WE feel important? How can we make sure we are relevant as organization and as individuals?
The problem of ego-driven self referential purposes: it doesn’t mean anything
But most of it is an ego-driven purpose, that helps to feel more important, more sustainable, more moral and more relevant than others. Organizations do purpose search projects, because they feel it will boost performance to give people a sense of relevance. Purpose has become another Consulting product.
Purpose in itself is also free of any moral value. A jail, a torture chamber, pollution, it all has a purpose. Purpose in itself is empty and meaningless, just to have a purpose doesn’t mean you are doing anything to foster human thriving or inner growth. Purpose needs a vision, an intention and a set of value attached.
It can be dangerous if a self-referential purpose becomes a means to an end and the Purpose of an Organizations becomes to fulfill its self-invented Purpose. Of course making money and profit can be the purpose of an organization. Extracting as much as possible from people and environment and customers can be a purpose of product, service or process. Purpose has no meaning. I also wrote a piece on the Dark Purpose of Organizations in regard to this.
Shifting to a holistic purpose with one key question: Are you ADDING or EXTRACTING from the whole?
A holistic purpose includes a collective purpose into the individual purpose. It is almost self-transcendent. It acknowledges the quality of “Inter-being” with everything there is. It includes society and environment into its own purpose. It also suggests, that the means (the WHAT and HOW) are aligned with the purpose (the WHY): e.g. creating a product that has a great purpose like reducing waste production, while using highly toxic materials to create it. (Solar panels are such a problem).
What helps are two key distinctions I learned from Claudius van Wyk, a philosopher in Holism:
Are you extracting from the whole — or are you adding to the whole?
We could also use another principle I learned from Buddhist Economics
Production is truly justified only when the value of the thing produced outweighs the value of that which is destroyed.
We are living in a time, where we use up the resources of the planets faster than it can recreate them. Our attitude of disconnection and individual optimization has lead us to a situation that is worsening the life conditions on the planet. If we talk purpose and we mean it in the sense of a “noble purpose”, we need to integrate the Whole.
Organizations don’t have boundaries, they are just virtual. Organizations are like organs of a Whole an they need to connect with the body around it, otherwise they will harm the whole and face a reduced life-time.
A holistic purpose adds value to society, environment, customers and employees at the same time
One great example is an Elephant Sanctuary I visited in Laos. They have the following purpose: “Saving elephants with sustainable tourism”. The purpose is to save elephants. The means ist tourism. The value is Sustainability. The customer gets an experience and at the same time supports a cause. The environment and the eco-system around is being enriched, energetically and environmentally.
Another great example are companies, who create products like Effekt Footwear, who transform trash into trainers: Made from reclaimed ocean plastic and fashion waste it contains 90% upcycled materials and helps clean up the planet. Their vision is to create sneakers for the circular economy. They keep their shoes from becoming waste through their circular sneaker program. So they add value by cleaning the planet and creating a great product for their customers.
And there are many more companies emerging and soon they will encompass old-school brands.
Younger generations show us the way
Especially a younger generation will hold organizations responsible on many levels. They won’t buy or use the products and they will not want to help produce it.
I am personally convinced, that organizations who add value on multiple layers will be thriving by attracting young talent and conscious consumers and customers.