The way genuine purpose is nurtured in organizations nicely resembles a spiral, turning around a fixed point or center. When companies are true to their purpose, the three dimensions of purpose approach each other and knowledge, motivation, and action become unified. This is the main difference between the linear approach of purpose and the oblique approach that we will describe and build throughout this book. It is not simply about doing things to develop purpose, no, it is placing purpose as the central point around which all else turns. That means developing the three dimensions of purpose in a concurrent and harmonious fashion. If we develop only one or two without the other(s), the purpose suffers.
We have seen many examples of this in the marketplace. Take Aigües de Barcelona, a water supply company. Inspired by their purpose: “committed to people, we care for our water and build the city” the management team launched a program with 20 purpose-driven projects deployed throughout the organization. However, after one year the results were disappointing. It was not until they started fostering internalization of the purpose in middle managers and employees that they saw these projects providing greatly improved results. From this experience, they realized that, as one manager declared, “for purpose to be a reality, the purpose must be loved.” This and many other experiences show that it is necessary to place an intermediate element between knowledge and practice: purpose must be loved and internalized by organizational members. Therefore, purpose development needs a three-dimensional approach, integrating simultaneously knowledge with motivation (internalization), knowledge with action (implementation), and motivation with action (integration) (Fig. 3.2).
is the connection between the knowledge of purpose and the motivation. It is the process through which organizational members “buy into” the purpose of the company, incorporating it in their beliefs and motivations. No doubt, the first to benefit from internalization is the company itself, as it is the basis on which unity is built. Purpose internalization is what turns purpose—such as “promote well-being in society”—from an abstraction into something truly sought after by its members. Without this, we could say that purpose does not exist. In other words, to understand the “why” of an organization, we must consider the “why” of each member within the organization, as well as their underlying motivations.
The internalization of purpose creates this link by reflecting a person’s motivations relative to the fulfillment of purpose. It is the development of these motivations that go beyond economic incentives (extrinsic motivations) and self-satisfaction (intrinsic motivations). They aim at meeting the needs of others and, therefore, depend on “pro-others motivation,” identified in the research as “prosocial motivation.”Footnote 26 Naturally, purpose internalization should be sought among employees in the first place, but it may also be found in other agents who act as “contributing agents” to the fulfillment of purpose. An example of this can be found in the efforts companies make to incorporate their customers, suppliers, and shareholders into their purpose. Think about, for example, the case of Aigües de Barcelona. They take significant effort in making their customers (the citizens) conscious of the sustainable use of water, motivating them to use better water management practices.
Purpose implementation is the connection between the knowledge of purpose and the action. When a company effectively implements purpose, it can be seen in the contributions it makes to society and to the people around it. Purpose implementation has two basic expressions. The first looks back in time to the degree in which a company’s practices correspond to its purpose, ultimately looking to answer the question “how are we fulfilling our purpose?” The second looks toward the future and involves expressing the purpose in terms of events and results that must be achieved going forward. In this regard, expressing purpose in concrete actions and results becomes part of the purpose implementation itself. What matters then is the extent to which the company fulfills and intends to fulfill its formal purpose—what the company has done and intends to do. The importance of purpose, then, translates to a practical realm by guiding the company in aspects such as defining strategy, communicating objectives, or making tactical choices. Implementing purpose through the challenges and activities we deal with daily ultimately helps enhance the meaning of work. Purpose implementation provides clarity and confidence, helping employees to stay the course and remaining true to the essence of the organization. Implementation and internalization must always go hand in hand, developed in a simultaneous fashion. Advances in purpose implementation without internalization risk failing over time, being perceived as inauthentic strategy development, or simply incoherent with regard to the organization’s professed purpose.
Purpose integration is the natural connection between the motivation and the action. This integration is the result of combining implementation and internalization in a natural way. It is about transforming purpose into a “habit” that is performed on a regular basis in harmony with the individuals’ motivations. It is earned over time and stimulates the ability to transform purpose into everyday action. In some way, integration is the quality of placing purpose in everything we do, both in the most significant and in the most commonplace. Purpose integration is what differentiates for example, a sales person that makes a sale simply to cover the budget, from the sales person that makes a sale for the betterment of a client. Purpose integration reflects the purity of intention in our daily tasks and objectives, and helps build trustworthy and lasting relationships between the company and its stakeholders. Likewise, we see a lack of integration when companies talk in platitudes and altruisms (like we see with too many CSR programs), but fail to integrate purpose into their daily practices or when they make unnecessary use of economic incentives for activities that already carry a prosocial motivation.
These three processes—internalization, implementation, and integration—do not form a linear model. They are not sequential steps, phases, or stages, nor is there a direct cause-effect relationship between them. But rather, these three processes are tied by an oblique (or indirect) relationship: one cannot be properly developed without the others, and they must be developed simultaneously, when trying to apply them in the daily life of the organization. The spiral depicted by the incremental and simultaneous development of the three processes makes the difference between simply implementing a “purpose plan” and consistently striving to be true to your company’s purpose over time. It shows how purpose-driven companies connect “everything to everything,” because they connect everything to purpose.