Giving work a sense of purpose isn’t compulsory. It actually rarely happens because, fundamentally it’s really quite difficult. But if you can narrow the purpose of a project down the rewards are huge.
There’s a classic HBR article from Theodore Levvit where he asks the question ‘What business are you really in?’.
For example, Starbucks isn’t in the coffee business, it’s in the customer service business. Their purpose is to delight customers. Achieving their purpose rewards them with feedback in the form of increased working capital i.e. manna, bread, money, which oils the engine of purpose even more.
Another example; ‘SaaS isn’t about Technology, it’s about making customers more awesome’.
More and more often, organisations recognise that they exist in order to create more customers. So, why is it still so difficult to understand the purpose of work within an organisation that many businesses still put themselves before the customer?
It’s because they don’t have to.
The capital they gained when they used to care about customers is still swishing around for most managers to swim around and relax in.
Many organisations talk about the importance of their customers but so often, organisations don’t act like they care about customers.
Many large and successful organisations act like self-serving, private members clubs, building things they think might impress their close friends and family.
I think it comes down to the fact that giving customer what they need is essentially a strategy for growth. It’s not a strategy leadership within organisations use for coping and enjoying work. This is possibly why it’s such an attractive idea to startups and disruptive technologies and models. Most successful organisations are built based on the vision of one or more pioneering, hard working, driven individual, H. J. Heinz, Steve Jobbs- not built for the purpose of profit but built for the purpose of changing their world. Then, when they die, or they sell or they move on for whatever reason, the finance department get hold of it and it’s then about maintaining dominance or the status quo, coping with reality and eventually the principles that founded the organisation slip away. They don’t get thrown out in one day, they gradually get forgotten while the focus is drawn more towards profit and away from the purpose.