On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced an audacious goal. Before a joint session of Congress, Kennedy laid out a compelling vision: to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.
It is estimated that on the night of that speech we knew only about 15% of what we needed to accomplish that goal. But on July 20, 1969, millions of people around the world watched in awe as Neil Armstrong took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.
In the eight years between President Kennedy’s and Commander Armstrong’s profound words, nearly 500,000 people, through dedication, ingenuity, and perseverance, worked tirelessly to reach that goal. It was something that many, including Dr. Robert Gilruth, Director of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, were not sure could be reached. What was it about Kennedy’s words that stirred so many to achieve this nearly impossible feat?
“Kennedy invited us into a cause,” write Kevin and Jackie Freiberg in their book Cause! “He asked us to be part of something BIGGER, to bring our gifts and talents to solve a problem,” they write. In short, it galvanized half a million people around a purpose.
The question of purpose — the need to connect the why to the what and how — is the essence of what it means to exist. It’s the question of insatiably curious 4-year olds. It’s the question young adults seek to answer when traditional education falls short. It’s the question on the minds of the Millennial workforce, today’s consumers, and discerning shareholders when considering whether to work for, buy from, or invest in your company.
Today’s organizations sit at a tipping point. The answer to the question of why a company exists can no longer be simply “to make a profit.”
Consider these trends behind this tipping point:
- 3.6 billion people along with their shared knowledge, social contacts, and computing power are rapidly becoming a collective force of unprecedented power.
- 73% of Millennials believe businesses can have a positive social impact on the world, and they are optimistic about playing a role in that change.
- 90% of U.S. consumers say they would switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality.
- 20% of shareholder-sponsored proposals of U.S. public companies focus on environmental and social concerns.
Traditional business based on the factory model is dying. Factories are filled with bureaucracy and clock watchers. Factories are focused on the what and the how. Successful organizations of the 21st century thrive in the why. They are driven by engaged people who know that their collective effort has meaning beyond a paycheck.
The case for defining and living your organizational purpose has never been more compelling. Today’s workforce, consumers, and shareholders don’t want to buy what you do. They want to buy into what you do. Find your inner compass and get clear about why the world is better because you exist.
Question: Have you worked for an organization with a clear sense of purpose? How did that impact you as an employee?
Whether you’re a start up, or you need a restart, we can help you connect to the backbone of what you exist to do. Check out our Purpose Alignment services or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org directly to set-up a free 30 minute consultation.