Is purpose a buzzword? Listen!

When talking to managers and reading about purpose, there is often a myth: Purpose is a buzzword, ultimately just another marketing claim.

It’s seen like the next fashion everyone needs it to be successful, supplied by management. Just as a few years ago everyone wanted a mission statement: a positive message to the outside world that is also intended to motivate employees. Or, similarly, a vision, i.e. a statement what the future looks like if goals are accomplished, the driving force of success.

These views are flawed because we cannot impose an organization’s purpose.

Waiting for a purpose to be supplied by the company doesn’t help in a world where new solutions are at stake.

We need to recognize that purpose is not a feel-good ingredient.

Instead, we need to make an extreme effort to finally drop our picture of organizations and start to see them as living organisms, developing their own dynamics with their own purposes that want to manifest in the world. “Go with the flow” is the motto — purpose moves in harmony with the organization, embedded in its environment.

Not synchronizing with the big picture is such a way will necessarily fail in a future with growing complexity.

Therefore, let us learn new forms of listening that go beyond words and feelings.

It is when we forge connections with people in such a deep way that we become generative with our hearing — adding more than what is being said.

Like successful actors have to give up being themselves, we need full presence with the other to understand a flowing purpose. We need to let images provide clarity. We need to feel resonance of what we do and help others hear themselves.

Wow, this sounds abstract? Here are a few concrete tips how to try it out.

Tip #1: Listen to stories. Sit together in your team over a coffee. Exchange concrete situations and stories that made you proud. Expand these stories into the future.

Tip #2: Create metaphors. Listen to problems of others and reflect on the images that come up in your mind. A picture can make purpose clear.

Tip #3: Check decisions. When the next hard decision comes up, listen beyond the facts — visualize for yourself a landscape of who’s life you change and how you contribute.

Believing in purpose as a buzzword is a trap. It reinforces “old work”.

Listening to the purpose of yourself and your organization is the way forward.

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