The Impact of Purpose in Leadership

“It’s better to make dust than eat it.”

That short but powerful statement was one I heard from former Unilever CEO Paul Polman during his keynote speech at the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) Presidents Conference. His point was that businesses should be setting the example as purveyors of change in a world needing holistic solutions to complex issues, not scrambling to keep up. And to do so successfully, Polman said individuals and organizations alike need to be purpose driven.

We tell our clients that purpose is the North Star for businesses. It provides a guiding vision and explains why the business exists beyond just making a profit, offering a clear direction for decision-making, strategy development, and goal setting. And we know now more than ever, employees are looking for connection – they want to work for organizations with the same values they have personally. 

Just as individual tributaries feed into a large river, purpose-driven employees fuel a purpose-driven organization. That company becomes a force to be reckoned with, carving its own path through all manner of landscapes toward the end goal. This type of organization enacts real change in the world because of visionary, purpose-driven leaders who are willing to challenge the status quo.

So, what are some of the areas of impact for purpose-driven organizations and their people?

Attracting & Retaining Talent

In today’s workforce, especially among the Millennial and Gen Z generations, meaningful work matters. A clearly defined purpose can help attract top talent who are passionate about the company’s mission and values. Employees who believe in the organization’s purpose are more likely to stay longer, contributing to a cohesive and stable culture.

Engagement & Productivity

A shared purpose encourages collaboration and teamwork and provides continued motivation. When employees understand and resonate with the organization’s purpose, it can foster a sense of belonging and commitment, leading to higher engagement and productivity.

Culture & Relationships

An organization’s culture is significantly impacted by purpose, as it serves as the foundational element that shapes the values and behaviors within the business. Those with positive, collaborative cultures reap the rewards of employees who trust their organizations. They’re full of internal contributors who feel safe enough to think outside the box and feel secure enough in their work environment to take risks and innovate.

Trust & Awareness

A strong purpose builds trust between stakeholders – both internal and external – and the business. It shows a commitment beyond making a profit. Because a well-defined purpose serves as a moral compass that guides leaders within the company, trust continues to be built externally as well. Having alignment with the organization’s purpose better positions employees to connect with their customers, often translating into higher overall customer satisfaction. That satisfaction leads to increased loyalty and builds positive awareness for the brand.

A well-defined purpose is not just an abstract concept but a powerful tool that influences numerous aspects of a business, and its impact can be seen in the company’s culture and in the communities it serves. While defining a company’s purpose and operating in alignment with it isn’t an easy task to undertake, it’s definitely something leaders should consider as they look at ways to make dust instead of eating it.