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Contributed Photography / Lisa McLeod

All the cool kids have purpose. Or so it seems. As more organizations begin to adopt corporate purpose statements, we see announcements on social media, a push for purpose-driven hiring, and CEOs delivering inspirational town halls.

Yet for many frontline leaders, keeping an aspirational purpose alive in the cadence of daily business is challenging. Much like keeping your fitness goals or parenting aspirations front and center during a pandemic, an inspirational purpose sounds great on your best day, but in the face of stress and uncertainty, it often falls by the wayside.

Aligning your team around a noble purpose bigger than money drives greater employee engagement, better customer retention, and improved competitive differentiation, all of which translate into better financial performance. I've observed two common misperceptions that keep organizations from reaping the financial and emotional rewards of purpose.

Purpose is purely about philanthropy

Yes, you can and should use your purpose to make the world a better place. Yet if your team thinks your purpose is about charity or simply doing good in your community, it will get sidelined. Fast. To ensure that your purpose drives your organization, it must sit at the center of your commercial model.

When a banking client landed on the purpose "We improve financial health," one of their first actions was to create tools to help their customers assess their baseline financial health and harness their analytics to help anticipate roadblocks that may hinder their financial health. This tells the team and their customers: Our purpose, the impact we have on customers, is the foundation of every action we take.

We trained their sales team to focus on the customers' financial health during sales calls, and managers — even if they never interacted with customers directly — were trained to identify the impact their team had on the customers' financial health.

This ensures everyone in the organization understands their role in delivering the purpose. Our counsel to clients is, activate your purpose with your customers and employees before zooming in on philanthropy. You want to ensure you have concrete methods for delivering on your purpose inside your business model.

Purpose can't be measured

Revenue and profit are front-and-center metrics, but they're actually lagging indicators. They're the results of the beliefs, behaviors, and words many months ago. To assess a more qualitative pillar like purpose, organizations must look toward leading indicators. You want to add metrics that help you predict the future, not just measure the past.

You can measure progress against your strategic purpose by assessing your impact on customers and employees. In our experience with clients, layering on even a single metric for purpose can shift your strategic true north.

One of our clients is an IT firm whose purpose is simply, "We help make small businesses more successful." When they began measuring how much time they were saving their clients, team performance soared. Instead of focusing internally on their own results, the team focused outward on how they made a difference to clients. The leading indicator — time we saved clients — helped them both predict and influence the lagging indicators, like productivity, and ultimately revenue.

The world is changing. Brian Stafford, host of the recent World Economic Forum: Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism and CEO of Diligent says, "There's an evolution towards stakeholder capitalism. When the Business Roundtable shifted and made that part of their stated purpose, it allowed CEOs and boards to put a different framing from around what the goals are. "

If you want to reap the reward of purpose, make it the center of your business and measure your progress.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an advisor, consultant, and speaker, who works with senior executives and sales teams around the world. Her bestselling books include "Selling with Noble Purpose" and "Leading with Noble Purpose."

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