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Purpose at work is crucial if you want to love your job and have a meaningful career. I know this to be true from experience. Before I came to work at StoneAge, the global manufacturing leader in high-pressure industrial cleaning equipment, over 16 years ago, I was purposeless and lost — which, in part, led to addiction issues and low self-esteem. I was miserable in my job at the time, which led me to underperform, which made me more miserable. Back then, I didn’t understand the value of purpose, much less why the company’s purpose should resonate with me — truth be told, I wasn’t clear on what the company’s purpose was. Even worse, I was purposeless myself. All of it came crashing down when I overdosed in 2006. To recover and heal, I moved home with my mom to rebuild my life after an overdose in 2006.
Fast-forward a decade and a half later, and I now realize how common this is. Maybe not the overdosing part but feeling miserable at work because your purpose and your company’s purpose either don’t align or don’t exist. I learned by working at StoneAge the power a company’s purpose has on motivating employees and helping them find more meaning in their work. Now, every day I live my personal purpose — to be an impactful leader that improves the lives of my customers and teammates — and am inspired by our company’s purpose of helping our customers go home to their families every night less stressed and uninjured because we make products that help them do their challenging jobs safer, easier and better. When you help your employees tap into the power of purpose, you can create an unstoppable organization. But it isn’t easy unless you have a clear company purpose.
So, why is having a clear company purpose so important? When people are inspired and aligned with purpose, a company can easily attract and retain employees and build a loyal customer base. Having a higher purpose can help a company create a positive social and environmental impact, which can benefit society — which I believe should be a mission of all executive leaders. And most importantly, a clear purpose helps leaders make better strategic decisions that align with their values and goals, leading to long-term success.
Don’t believe me? Look at Fortune Magazine’s “Most Admired Companies List. According to Korn Ferry, 97% of leaders at companies that have made the “Most Admired Company List” said employees embrace the organization’s purpose, and 95% believe their organization’s purpose aligns with the company’s vision and goals. Leading with purpose leads to success.
Take Patagonia, for example. Patagonia has a higher purpose of helping save the planet from the devastating effects of climate change. In fact, Patagonia pledges 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. This purpose is evident in every aspect of the company’s operations, from its sustainable manufacturing processes to its political activism and support for environmental causes. Patagonia’s employees are deeply engaged and motivated by the company’s mission and feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their work. This, in turn, has helped Patagonia to build a loyal customer base and become a leader in the sustainable clothing industry.
How should a company go about developing a higher purpose? Here’s what we did:
We defined the impact we wanted to make
We make high-pressure industrial cleaning equipment and serve a notoriously dangerous industry — cleaning industrial facilities such as refineries, chemical plants, power plants, food processing plants and more. Our products make a hazardous and difficult job easier and safer. And our customers, although an essential part of the supply chain, are often looked at as glorified janitors, an undeserved label placed upon a critical industry.
Industrial cleaning contractors rely on us to help them finish their jobs on time, on budget and as safely and easily as possible. We understand that our products, backed by our commitment to service, make their lives easier. We also understand that manufacturing everything we humans use daily would come to a screeching halt without industrial cleaning. Quite simply, the world is dirty, and we help keep it clean so you don’t have to worry about it. We clearly defined how we positively impact the world, which motivates us to innovate products and better serve our customers.
We not only aligned our purpose with our values, we made our purpose a value
We believe in keeping things simple. We don’t want our values to be an eye-roll-inducing poster that hangs on a wall. So, we narrowed our values to three principles that our employees understand and can speak to: Practice Self-Leadership, Be a Great Teammate and Deliver on the StoneAge Assurance Promise. The StoneAge Assurance Promise is our commitment to doing whatever it takes to help our customers complete their cleaning jobs safely, on time, on budget and as easily as possible — our purpose.
We engaged stakeholders throughout the organization
A higher purpose isn’t developed in a conference room by the executive management team, at least not one that stakeholders are inspired by. So, we set out to engage our team. Together, we developed the StoneAge Assurance Promise and our other two core values. Then we asked our customers what they thought about it, and the feedback was resoundingly positive. We hit a home run; our purpose aligned perfectly with what our customers needed and wanted from us.
We continuously communicate our purpose
What good is a higher purpose if no one knows what it is? That’s why the StoneAge Assurance Promise is everywhere. We discuss how well we deliver our promise to our customers daily and recognize employees who go above and beyond in embodying the promise. It’s woven into our hiring and onboarding practices and performance review process. It’s also on our website and marketing content; our customers even talk about it. Undoubtedly, our purpose is embedded in everything we do because of our commitment to communicating about it regularly.
Finally, we lead by example because we embody our purpose
Every day, our employees lead by example by taking action and making decisions that align with our higher purpose. Our commitment to our promise builds trust and credibility with our customers and each other. Everyone demonstrates the company’s commitment to its purpose; there is no StoneAge without the StoneAge Assurance Promise.
A higher purpose is essential for a company’s success and should be a priority for leaders. Helping your employees understand and embrace purpose will create a more engaged, motivated and purposeful workforce aligned with your company’s mission and values. The results can be outstanding if done correctly — long-term success and a positive impact on society.