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  • Writer's pictureRoger Grant

Why Build a Purpose-driven Organisation?

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Was there a time in your career when you felt that you were part of a team doing something amazing, gaining rapid market share, outpacing the competition? When the days were long and tough, but it was fun?

I have a few bright spots in my career, and the one that stands out was my first job in Nokia New Zealand.

When I joined Nokia New Zealand in 1996, we were just a small team of 30 plus people. We were truly engaged with Nokia’s mission of connecting people. At that time, the use of mobile phones was still uncommon and Motorola, with their brick phone, was the gorilla in the room.

We used to joke that the brick phone had an additional safety feature to stop your car from rolling down the hill.

Nokia was the challenger, but we believed we had a compelling offering that could open up the market. It was a field of dreams—we believed that if we built it well, the customers would come.

Everyone was committed to rolling out the mobile network, and to putting a Nokia phone in the hands of every person out there. Everyone’s impact was visible, we could see our fingerprints all over the work we were doing, no contribution was too small or large, and everyone’s work mattered. Everyone from John the Cleaner (affectionately known as “JTC”) to the managing director. We were a high-performance team, but also treated each other like family—we knew each others’ partners, spouses and kids.

We were innovative, not for its own sake, but from necessity. There was no standard operating procedure to guide our work. We needed to be creative and get the job done. I felt like a cowboy sometimes, conquering new frontiers. We did not think about work-life balance; it was more about work-life integration.

The work itself was so motivating that it would consume us. Some of us were self-aware, and knew when to pull back. I learnt this the hard way. I was setting up the Wellington office alone one night, feeling like a hero doing it all on my own. Unfortunately, a rack of IT equipment toppled and pinned me down for a while. I thought the cleaner would find me dead the next day.

In spite of this mishap, we were all in a place we wanted to be, because Nokia, at that time, was a purpose-driven organisation. Subsequently, Nokia’s success rocketed to become the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer for fourteen consecutive years.

What is a purpose-driven organisation?

A purpose-driven organisation generates breakthrough innovations and reaches new levels of productivity, resulting in superior financial performance.

A purpose-driven organisation has an unmistakable “rallying cry”— a clear purpose that addresses the core “doing” by the company to create value for customers. For Nokia, it was “Connecting People.” For AirAsia, it’s “Now Everyone Can Fly.” For Banyan Tree, it’s “Offering rest and relaxation to the world-weary.”

The rallying cry is different from the “Our Mission is…” plaque in the office lobby that no one seems to be able to articulate. Nor is “Hitting $1 billion revenue this year” a rallying cry. The rallying cry must have a higher purpose, a promise to create something better for people out there in the wild. And this promise is delivered by purpose-driven individuals who are fully engaged to your organisation’s rallying cry.

As Martin Roll, the author of Asian Brand Strategy, puts it, “A brand is created out of thousands of experiences with products, and services, and systems created by people. Therefore, employees are the driving force of strategy.”

“A brand is created out of thousands of experiences with products, and services, and systems created by people. Therefore, employees are the driving force of strategy.”

Nothing motivates a purpose-driven individual more than a rallying cry that supersedes everyone’s personal ambitions. The rallying cry guides their behaviours at work, which ultimately define your brand and brings it to life.

And the research proves it.

Research has shown that organisations with fully engaged employees experienced 2.5 times more revenue growth compared to their competitors with low engagement levels (1). In another research conducted by the Harvard Business Review with 500 global business executives, companies are shifting emphasis towards growth and investment, and the top three factors most likely to bring success are people-oriented “soft” factors—high level of customer service, effective communications, followed by a high level of employee engagement tied at a third place together with strong executive leadership.

So what are the characteristics of a purpose-driven organisation?

Here are three signs of a purpose-driven organization:

  • The organisation has a clearly articulated purpose statement, a “rallying cry”, guiding employees in creating value for customers.

  • The organisation hires, engages and retains purpose-driven individuals. Employees are fully engaged with the rallying cry, they know what they need to do and how their work drives impact through the organization. As Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, says: “We’re like a pro sports team, not a kid’s recreational team.” The team also sees each other as more than just colleagues.

  • The organisation has a culture of creativity and innovation, based on trust and peer-to-peer accountability, with a bias to action. Employees are given “space” to do their best work. Guided by the rallying cry, employees feel empowered to make decisions to delight customers. Google’s a good example. In Google, employees are encouraged to create and experiment. When they fail (remember Google Answers?), they learn and move on. They believe that failure is the road to innovation.

I’m working to make PERSONNA a purpose-driven organisation. I work with an amazing team of smart creative people. Our rallying cry is “work made personal”. We want to help as many people as possible across Asia to engage with their work to generate breakthrough innovations and reach new levels of productivity. We want to help Asian brands compete on the global stage. Our work is personal. Follow us on LinkedIn to see how we make work personal.

Are you leading a purpose-driven organisation that impacts the lives of employees and customers? Share with us!

(1) Hay Group cross-industry study 2009.

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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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