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  • Writer's pictureRoger Grant

Using Purpose to Unlock Innovation (Part 1)

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

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Your car broke down. You send it to the car repair shop and they can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. As they scramble to find a new solution:

●     Mechanic (A) cares more about what his boss thinks of him, when’s his next promotion, his next holiday, and

●     Mechanic (B) cares more about fixing your car better, faster and cheaper?

Which mechanic is more likely to succeed?

Following Imperative’s global survey (in partnership with LinkedIn Talent Solution), Mechanic (B) is more likely to succeed. The survey found those who are intrinsically motivated to find purpose in their jobs consistently outperform their colleagues and experience greater levels of job satisfaction and well-being, regardless of country, gender, or ethnicity.

In 2014, I could see a cliff coming for Personna's recruitment business in Singapore. We weren’t fighting with traditional known competitors, but mighty tech titans dressed up as grandma. She sells you technology, then eats you up - this was our little red riding hood moment. The technology was making it better, faster and cheaper to match employers and candidates. How do we remain relevant to our customers?

Meanwhile, the business was growing, our clients from Singapore and the region were demanding more from us, and we were extremely busy. Was there really a need for change? And if we have to change, what do we change to? There were no clear answers.

We iterated new products and services. Our initial services were half-baked: free workshops that led nowhere, personality assessments that left customers with that “So what?” feeling. The failures were crushing.

Over three years, we iterated our products eleven times to create today's Fight Club Leadership programs.

When facing the unknown, purpose is clarity. Here are three takeaways in using purpose to unlock innovation:

Insight 1: Purpose is personal, change is personal

Innovation is impossible without change. Organisations don’t change, people do. Change is deeply personal. It is tough - it feels like death by a thousand cuts.

However, I was willing to fight for it because the change was personal. I reflected internally on what I really wanted to do. I discovered the part of my job that I enjoyed most was the creative conversations. We were building products where we support leaders to build exciting purpose for their organisation.

Insight 2: Every team member needs to choose change for themselves

With each iteration and failure, instead of speeding up, the team slowed down. I often had the thought bubble in my head, “Is this a kindergarten, should I fire everyone?” That’s when I realised, I chose to change, but they didn’t. The team was resisting change because to them, it felt like my purpose, not theirs. In turn, I was frustrated that they didn’t jump in with the reckless abandon I wanted.

To unlock innovation, the team needed to choose and decide whether this change is worth fighting for.

Insight 3: New ways of working - Accountability & Communication are key

Faced with unknowns, we needed clear goals and measures to track our progress. There are no silver bullets.

Not only did we face steep learning curves in pivoting the business, but we also had to unlearn old ways of thinking and communicating. We integrated our purpose statements into day-to-day activities, from Marketing to Onboarding, to stay focused.

Change is the lifeblood of businesses. It can feel like death by a thousand cuts. It’s tough, but purpose can make it easier. Research from the E.Y. Beacon Institute and Harvard

Business School shows that companies that lead with purpose are more likely to be profitable.

Connecting teams with purpose bring a measurable business impact.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll share how to unlock individual purpose for innovation. In part 3, linking it to team purpose to create sustainable growth. We’ll be sharing examples from SAP,

Heineken and more.

Part 1: Why Aligning Purpose Matters for Innovation

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PERSONNA is a leadership development company focused on the people side of transformation. We hold a simple belief that everyone is an extraordinary and powerful force for positive change. When you make work personal, naturally you become a better leader.

We’re here to help people become better leaders, build highly-effective teams, and create a culture of trust & collaboration in their organisations. We provide leadership branding, leadership coaching and group experiences. If you are curious to learn more drop us an email to

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