Close Search
Opinion  | 

Why purpose must be experienced

19 September 2022 at 2:36 pm
David Jack
Is it time to put your strategic plans aside and get in touch with your organisation’s heartbeat?

David Jack | 19 September 2022 at 2:36 pm


Why purpose must be experienced
19 September 2022 at 2:36 pm

Is it time to put your strategic plans aside and get in touch with your organisation’s heartbeat?

I think about purpose as a personal experience.

In recent times, purpose has been elevated into the stratosphere – a Google search for “for-purpose” yields a staggering 9.4 trillion results.

While it’s natural for leaders to be interested or even invested in purpose, realising its power and potential goes beyond an emotively compelling purpose statement.

Leaders must learn to enable their customers and clients to experience their purpose, but what exactly does that mean?

Let’s set the scene using a company that sells rise chairs which lift people who have experienced a fall. It’s not hard to imagine this scenario where rise chairs are needed.

Falling is a very dangerous and emotionally difficult experience for a person with reduced mobility. Clearly this person needs assistance to get up, but the situation creates another problem. An assistant is at risk of accidentally injuring the person or themselves in the process of helping.

This problem really came home to me when I saw a rise chair in a demonstration environment at our Disability Expo. The company representative selling these innovative rise chairs showed me how easy it was to slide two supports gently behind the person’s shoulder blades, then position the seat underneath the person’s slightly raised legs.

A few clicks later, the chair was assembled and with the touch of a button it slowly and carefully raises a fallen person to a sitting or standing position.

I watched as the representative didn’t exert any physical effort to raise his staff member, who volunteered to demonstrate. Press a button and you can safely assist someone. Clearly training and due process is still required, but it wasn’t hard to see why home care, aged care and ambulance services love them!

What’s your real purpose?

With that picture in mind, what’s the purpose of the rise chair company? A lofty purpose statement might be “to transform the home care and aged care sectors by safely assisting people who have had a fall”. Sounds interesting, but it misses the mark.

Purpose is always personal and implies a simple human truth like the need for care, safety, or support, for example.

Supporting a person who has fallen is about providing the best possible care and assistance during their difficult circumstances. It includes enabling them to experience dignity and a sense of wellbeing while being supported.

With that in mind, this company’s purpose is tangibly experienced in a real-world moment when a rise chair is used. A good purpose statement is the expression of that moment; how did the person feel after they were assisted? How did the rise chair change the experience for the person receiving assistance?

Understanding and expressing the reality of this moment is the true heartbeat of an organisation’s purpose. This is an organisation which understands the true experience of people who benefit from their services, programs or products.

Purpose may be an expression of a clear vision and enabled through strategy, but purpose doesn’t live in strategy documents or the minds of leaders.

Purpose lives in the genuine, unvarnished experiences of the people in our community who benefit from the practical services delivered by our dedicated staff.

It sounds obvious, but we often need very clear and simple reminders of why our organisations exist. I often meet leadership teams who have (understandably) become so busy and overwhelmed with the daily reality of running an organisation that a person-centred purpose has become obscured.

You hear it reflected when they say things like:

  • We don’t have a clear sense of direction
  • Our stakeholders are not aligned with our vision
  • We don’t know who we are anymore! 

What to do next?

Again, there are lots of different approaches to consider when it comes to discovering your organisation’s purpose and responding to these difficult statements.

And to be fair, I love applying evidence-based methodologies to solve difficult problems. Given a chance, I’ll engage in discussion about how to apply models and strategic approaches for hours!

But when it comes to purpose, the best place to start is by reminding yourself of the experience that started your organisation’s journey.

Often called the origin story, it could be that moment when the founder experienced a difficult situation or realised a change in direction was needed to serve a particular community or group of people.

Deeply held beliefs, strong emotions and an exciting vision for the future came together to ultimately form that entity where you now work.

So, what was that story? What did that moment feel like for the founders?

How do you now imagine customers and clients will experience your passion for change, support or care?

Take time to ask some simple, open questions. Put your strategic plans aside for just a moment and get in touch with your organisation’s heartbeat. Those people for whom you exist. That’s where your purpose lives. Enabling their experience of wellbeing through your programs and services is the inspiration that will help you express your purpose simply and authentically.

Ironically, it must be said taking time to put aside lofty visions and jargon isn’t aways easy, but that’s all part of the leader experience.

David Jack  |  @ProBonoNews

David Jack is co-CEO and Principal Advisor at ImpactInstitute.


Get more stories like this



Leading change at the highest level

Ruby Kraner-Tucci

Thursday, 2nd February 2023 at 12:36 pm

Why Dylan Alcott is a breath of fresh advocacy

David Jack

Wednesday, 19th October 2022 at 8:15 pm

If we really want systems change, we need transformation

Felicity Green

Tuesday, 6th September 2022 at 8:02 pm

Rebuilding our society: What should a reimagined Australia look like?

Danielle Kutchel

Wednesday, 25th May 2022 at 5:35 pm

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook