Feb 14, 2017 | Purpose

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking at the American Public Transit Authority Annual CEOs Summit in San Diego. The Summit was attended by about 150 public transit executives from across the country.

Like many other industries in the U.S., public transit faces an uncertain future. Regulatory uncertainty – where does public transit fit in the new Administration’s infrastructure plan? Macroeconomic uncertainty – when the economy is up, gas and cars are affordable, so transit ridership is down. Disruptive uncertainty – will ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft complement or erode public transit services?

No industry is immune. Uncertainty will remain high for the foreseeable future. Forecasts are likely to be wrong. The world is no longer predictable or stable.

During times of uncertainty, it is the leader’s role to bring order to chaos, calm nerves, and manifest a non-anxious presence. One of the most effective ways to do this, is to reground people around organizational purpose. Now is the time to clarify and renew your commitment to the bigger impact – collectively – that your organization is making in the world.

To that end, I challenge you to honestly assess where your organization falls in the 5 Levels of Purpose:

Level 1: Our organization has not clarified or codified its purpose.

Level 2: I couldn’t tell you what our purpose is without looking on the website – and that’s probably true for most of our employees as well.

Level 3: Our organization has a purpose, but we don’t actively use it to inspire employees.

Level 4: Our organization has a purpose that inspires our employees, but we don’t take purpose into account when making business decisions.

Level 5: Our organization has a clearly defined purpose that is hardwired into our DNA. It inspires our employees and guides our business decisions.

If your answer fell between Levels 1 through 3, you have an untapped resource that will help you stabilize your team, and inspire them to work together to make a collective impact. If you answered Level 4, work to hardwire purpose into your business decisions. Think about what you measure, what you reward, and what you ignore. Are they in line with your organizational purpose?

Level 5 companies like Patagonia call purpose “Our Reason for Being”. At Level 5, you’re not immune from uncertainty, but you are clear about why the world is better off because your organization exists. Having clarity of purpose is like having a North Star. It will keep you on your path, and help you make decisions that will sustain you through the chaos.

Question: Have you worked for an organization with a clear sense of purpose? How did that impact you as an employee? 


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