Purpose in business – and 6 questions on how-to-find-it
How corporate spirit can provide support in stormy times
How can the purpose in the company help to survive even difficult times? We explain why purpose is important and which questions help to find purpose in the company.
The question of human meaning is as old as humanity itself. But through digitization and the current pandemic, the search for purpose and meaningfulness is taking on new qualities. When we only work in a home office, when our daily work is predominantly digital and when we only meet our colleagues and customers virtually, sooner or later the question arises as to why we work or should work for this or that company.
Why ask the “why” question?
The current pandemic vividly shows that unusual events and crises remind us of our transience and needs for toilet paper, yeast and noodles come to the fore. More and more people have been asking themselves questions since last year such as:
- What do I really need?
- What is good for me?
- What do I want in life?
In our search for explanations, Abraham Maslow‘s pyramid of needs, familiar from psychology, can offer us answers. His social-psychological model of needs is partly controversial, but it shows why we hoard toilet paper in a crisis and why we strive for purpose and why at a certain point in our lives.
Maslow distinguished so-called deficit and growth needs in his model. Where deficit needs are met after a certain point, growth needs are insatiable. The volume of a refrigerator is limited, but the hunger for power, status and success is not.
When the refrigerator is full, I sleep soundly at night, the family is provided for, I have achieved prestige and success, and all the social check boxes have been checked off, what do I still want? What is there to live for when everything seems to have been achieved?
Our deficit needs in Germany are mostly well covered by society as a whole. Status and things pile up and yet questions like Why am I not happy? or What am I still missing? remain.
The digital transformation of man
The digital transformation has basically been a transformation of the inner world of man to changing external circumstances since the beginning.
Since the chaos of the Second World War, we have been striving for stability, security and control on the outside so as not to lose the steering wheel of our society and our lives again. This is countered by the speed and automation of digitalization and globalization.
We have come up with a few things to keep up with these external changes at a racing gallop. Agility, self-determined work, software and apps and yet we have forgotten the most important thing at the start: Ourselves.
And just at that moment, the pandemic comes along and consistently demands what digitalization has not yet managed to do: That we adapt to external circumstances as best we can, like Darwinian finches – and that we do so agilely and flexibly, differently and anew every day. This transformative adaptation can only become possible if we are willing to take a big leap out of our comfort zone.
The little crocodile
This jump challenges us enormously. Especially our brain stem, aka the little crocodile, will object. Our brain stem contains, among other things, all the vital functions such as breathing, regulation of the heartbeat, food intake and intestinal activity. The little crocodile is only concerned with our survival and the safety and integrity of our body. To anything unknown to the little crocodile, it usually responds with three choices: Fight, flight, play dead.
If the little crocodile now encounters the challenges of the new world of work, digitalization and the pandemic, unequal partners will face each other. The one is concerned with security, thinking in routines and rituals, the other with speed, agility, innovation, and tomorrow. So how is it possible to bring the three under the proverbial “one hat”?
One solution for companies can be to answer the question of meaning. If I am aware of the purpose of the company I work for, then I pursue this purpose even against possible resistance and challenges. The deeper awareness of my actions drives my inner self and calms my little crocodile by the way.
What answers does your company have to the question of purpose?
We are on planet earth almost 8 billion people and probably there is a similarly high number of answers and hypotheses to the question of meaning.
We could follow the hypothesis of evolution, but then the question arises, what is our contribution in the system. Every animal, every plant, every fungus and every organism serves the greater whole in nature. In nature, nothing is too much, nothing is too little. Everything follows the cyclical rhythm of life. One serves the other, but whom do we serve as humans?
A fish does what a fish must do: swim. A bird does what a bird must do: Fly. Only man imagines that he can control everything and do things that are against his nature.
Why are we here? What is our contribution to the big picture and to the success on this planet? It can hardly be the destruction of biodiversity, slave trade, exploitation, social check boxes, bills and hamster wheel.
But if we look at humans from a metaperspective, one thing stands out compared to all other organisms:
As the only mammal, we are blessed with an imagination and an idea of the future.
We can create new things, think things up and bring them into reality. Every glass, every telephone, every jacket, light bulb, every car around us was in the beginning as an idea, as a vague idea in a human head.
And as if that were not extraordinary enough, we invent thousands of ways to bring these ideas into reality. From mind into matter. But as genius would have it, it is always accompanied by a certain madness that has probably brought us socially and ecologically to the point where we are today.
Why are we here?
If it is possible to create new things only with the power of thought, what has evolution set this up for?
Perhaps the purpose of our life lies exactly in this? In the awareness and use of this unique gift and power, in order to use it meaningfully for us, our fellow men and our planet.
Maybe the purpose is that we deal responsibly with creative power and creativity and make it possible for every human being to shape his environment around him with this power in a beautiful and meaningful way. For a life worth living for all living beings on this planet. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
What does that have to do with your business now?
The human individual strives for growth. Everything about us grows and renews itself regularly: skin, hair, nails, cells. To believe that this striving for growth stops at our personality would be pure madness. For everyone, it’s not about saving the wizarding world like Harry Potter or getting higher, further and faster. Growth can also be deeper, broader, more genuine, and growth can also be experienced through purpose. And there can be purpose even in the very small.
Purpose can be given to me when I know that my work makes “a” person happy, or that my work solves a problem for someone, or a problem for an entire society is solved by my work.
We feel purpose primarily when we feel that we are useful and that I am being effective with my actions.
The clearer the purpose of your company is visible and tangible, the clearer you can decide for customers and employees and the easier and simpler it is for new customers and new colleagues to find you.
6 important questions – discovering purpose in the company
These 6 questions will help you discover the purpose of your business:
- Why does this company exist? What was the reason for its foundation?
- What do we do for whom and with what benefit and/or goal?
- Which needs of our target group(s) do our products and/or services satisfy?
- How are these needs related to nature and the environment?
- What is made possible by our products and/or services being in the world?
- What do we want to contribute to a world worth living in?
If the topic is new to you, the questions may seem challenging. It can help you to answer them if each participant answers the questions for him/herself first and then finds answers together in a second step. This takes time and from experience the answers become more concrete, finer and deeper with intensification of the occupation with the topic.
The treasure for you in your search for the answers is a company that inspires you, your employees and your customers, fills you with purpose, acts like a magnet and offers support as a lighthouse in stormy times.
A clearly recognizable corporate sense picks up on our human need for self-realization and is a long-term guarantee for satisfaction and sustainable success.