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Finding Your Purpose: Part One


Finding Your Purpose: Part One

Consider adding a fourth “P” to the organization sustainability model, by including Purpose to People, Planet and Profit, making it the quadruple bottom-line.

In the last decade measuring organization sustainability and growth was difficult.  The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) went beyond the traditional measures of profit, return on investment, and shareholder value to include environmental and social dimensions to measure an organization’s impact on the world.

Recently a fourth “P” has been added that represents an organization’s pursuit of Purpose.  An organization that is driven by purpose has defined long term goals for the future and created a commitment to social responsibility.  Purpose driven organizations communicate the “what” and “how” the product or service that is offered addresses world social problems.  The Purpose is defined in the strategy, processes, communications, human resources practices, operational decision making, and culture of the organization.

Research shows that purpose is driven by three causes:  Competence – the function the product serves; Culture – how the business is run; and Cause – the social good that is provided.  Cause-based purpose tends to receive the most attention because it is most visible.  All three types of purpose can be effective if defined appropriately.  The major challenge with defining your purpose is determining what the organization stands for and how they deliver on the promise.  Alignment is key in each of these instances. Some examples of lack of alignment include: if your promise is cause and the nature of your business impact on society isn’t articulated or visible; if your promise is competence and your products or services fail to provide value to your customer and/or employees; if your promise is culture and your engagement scores are low.

Purpose driven organizations promote environmental sustainability, community support, and employee well-being.  Purpose driven organizations face tough decisions to create win-win situations. For instance, choosing packaging materials for product shelf-life – should you use plastic containers that keep produce fresh for longer periods or switch to recyclable containers that can be repurposed.  These decisions challenge purpose driven organizations.  Sometimes you must play the long game and continue to research to determine the right decision and identify long-term benefits.

How to Define your Purpose

  1. Identify leaders in the organization that have a stake in the purpose.
  2. Identify your purpose:
    • Competence-focused – a clear value proposition for customers and employees
    • Culture-focused – creates an internal alignment and collaboration for key partners
    • Cause-focused – purpose aligns customers, employees, and communities around social benefits generated by the organization
  1. Link purpose to strategy – Identify the business objectives that the purpose supports. Brainstorm 3-5 ideas for defining the purpose that aligns with your business strategy.
  2. Unify the team to recognize the purpose by asking: A) What is the usefulness we provide that is so evident we live it, feel it, believe it? B) Do we make the world a better place?  Is there any doubt we don’t?  C) Are we credible? D) Do the leaders’ behavior support what we do? E) Do we deliver value to customers and employees through our value proposition?  F) How does the business create value for society?
  3. Transfer purpose and embed it into behavior. Change can be difficult, however, we must model the behaviors that support the purpose and hold others accountable through performance reviews, business decisions and actions, and the culture.  Document processes that model the behavior, provide leadership and employee training, present during hiring, orientation, and onboarding new employees.




Knowles, Hunsaker, Grove, and James, Harvard Business Review, “What’s the Purpose of Your Purpose?” March-April, 2022, pp36-43.

Gulati, “Messy But Essential Pursuit of Purpose”, Harvard Business Review, March-April, 2022, pp 45-51.


About the Author:

Dr. Nancy Zentis is the CEO of Institute of Organization Development.  She is recognized as a leader in the field of OD with over 40 years’ experience.  She is the founder of the Institute of Organization Development, an award winning, globally recognized organization providing OD Certification Programs to support the professional growth of those who have passion for the field of OD.  If you would like to gain a distinguished OD Certification to advance your professional growth, please contact us for for more information: www.instituteod.com, or email us at info@instituteod.com.

She is also the founder of GIODN.org, a global OD network, providing members with monthly presentations from experts in the field, and a monthly book club.  GIODN offer members a variety of downloadable OD tools, a membership directory, blog articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos of past presentations.  She can be reached at Nancy.zentis@instituteod.com


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