What is your company's purpose?

By Ray DePaul

It was November, a few weeks before my 30th birthday, and I was starting a new job. When I walked through the software company's doors for the first time, I found a group of about 30 employees listening to the tail end of a passionate speech by the CEO who was standing in front of a 15-foot banner that read "WHATEVER IT TAKES!". Every employee was expected to grab a sharpie and sign this banner as a sign of commitment to the important goal that was being evangelized. I was intrigued at the kind of mission that this rally was promoting and the kind of company that I had just joined. Perhaps they were getting close to a United Way fundraising goal? Perhaps they were vying for a customer service or employer of the year award? I was quickly brought down to earth when I found out that I was signing up to "reach $20M in sales that year… whatever it takes!"

After leaving a failed startup that was ahead of its time in connecting computers together (pre-internet), I was at day one of my new company and the mission appeared to simply be revenue… at any cost. It's a sad day when the belief in your company is shattered before noon on your first day. My need to support a young family kicked in and I spent the next four years underachieving for a company in which I had little emotional attachment.

I wish my story was unique, but some research indicates that as few as 13% of employees have an emotional commitment to their work (The Founder's Mentality, Chris Zook & James Allen). And all indications are that the generation of employees now entering the workplace have an even greater desire to find a sense of purpose in their work.

So how do companies, big and small, find a purpose beyond the uninspired "creating shareholder wealth"? The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is proud to be supporting research to answer this critical question. Lead by Dr. Simon Raby and Institute Fellow Dr. Sandip Lalli and supported by the Viewpoints Group, we hope this line of research will help all companies understand what it takes to operate a purpose-driven organization.

When I did leave this company, I joined a small tech company that was dripping with purpose. We were going to change the way people everywhere communicated. I joined a group of employees that were all overachieving and we helped create the smartphone revolution. Let's see what it takes for every company to find their sense of purpose.