Our Litmus Test: The Five Properties of Purpose

Written by

BCG BrightHouse

Sep 06, 2017 · 3-minute read

What exactly is purpose? Unlike mission (the “what”) or vision (the “where”), purpose is the organization’s “why.” It’s at the intersection of two fundamental questions: Who are we? (that is, What are our authentic and distinctive strengths?) and What need do we fulfill in society? (Why do we exist beyond what we make, do, or sell? and Why work for us?).

Purpose captures what is true about the organization at its best. Purpose is also aspirational: it depicts what the organization can be and goes beyond brand positioning to take a stand. Rather than being only market driven, a purpose-based organization is also driven by values, culture, and ethos. In addressing the second question, purpose reframes an organization’s compact with the world; instead of being an obligation, social responsibility is seen as an opportunity. A purpose-based organization would assert that if it disappeared tomorrow, the world would lose something meaningful.

Rather than employees, a purpose-based company has missionaries. Instead of customers, it has advocates. In place of social charity, it avows social conscience. Instead of loyalty, it aims for love.

To further clarify the essence of purpose—and help organizations steer clear of surface purpose, BrightHouse has identified five properties of true purpose. To ensure purpose that is ingrained in the organization, we offer the following litmus test: a set of questions for each property that organizations should be able to answer.

      Is the organization’s purpose clear, compelling, and noticeable to customers and employees? Do they understand it enough to describe it, beyond what the company makes or sells?
      Is the organization’s purpose inspiring? Does it reflect a real need in society? Is it a rallying cry? Could it be as relevant tomorrow as it is today? Does it suggest that the organization is resilient in the face of an unknown future?
      Does the purpose reflect the company’s roots, history, and DNA? Do leaders believe in it? Does it motivate them to take certain actions? Do leaders feel that being part of the company is being part of a movement?
      Are the company’s decisions in harmony with its purpose? Does the company live its purpose with passion? Would leaders turn down a profitable opportunity or disengage from a business activity if it wasn’t tied to the purpose?
      Does purpose elicit greater loyalty from employees and customers? Are people more engaged with the company because of it? Would employees and customers recommend the company to others because of its purpose?

Find out more about how you can identify an organization in need of purpose by reading our recent white paper: Purpose with the Power to Transform.

And look for more information about our thought leadership here at BrightHouse on the blog. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest insights on purpose. 

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