The Purpose Revolution

Do decisions in your job cause you discomfort? Do you wish you could use your role to do something great? Maybe you feel like the loudest voice in your organization is the one who always gets the most attention. Many introverts struggle to communicate their true feelings in the workplace, but you should know that everyone could use a refresher on how to to most aptly communicate with their coworkers and team.

Drs. John Izzo and Jeff VanderWielen wrote a book called, The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good, which focuses on how we desire to do good: we want to work for companies that make a difference, and we want to support companies which show social responsibility when it comes to buying the things our families need. And for many of us in the workplace, we feel stretched by two opposing needs: the pull of their purposeful desire to do good and the corporate push to maximize profit.

As an introvert, you have the natural inclination to quietly observe the trends in your office. Which needs are getting the most attention? Is the loudest voice leading for good?

In this except from The Purpose Revolution, the authors will guide you through situations that introverts can manage, showing that actions speak louder than words.

Beware of the Two-Headed Purpose Monster

This tension between the profit focus and the purpose focus can pose a challenge for leaders. Thomas Kolster, founder and creative director of the Goodvertising Agency in Denmark, is a leading adviser to companies on how to communicate purpose and sustainability. Kolster talks about this purpose/profit balancing act using the analogy of what he calls the “two-headed purpose monster.”

If you think about purpose and profit as two heads talking, each in its own language and each moving in its own direction, you end up in a precarious situation. Kolster explains that this problem arises because companies have conflicting messages about purpose both internally and externally. He uses films and folklore to identify the common mistakes companies make regarding the dichotomy of purpose and profit. In doing so he identifies three types of two-headed monsters.

From Pixar’s Monsters University, you might recall the characters Terri and Terry Perry, the two-headed monster. The Terri head is slightly smaller than the other, Terry, head. Now, which voice drowns out the other, purpose or profit? Which has the loudest voice in the organization? This monster is probably the most common one and is typical in organizations still struggling to implement purpose. For example, oil-and-gas companies tend to talk a lot about purpose and leading society toward a renewable future, but they consistently fall short of following through on the business model. Their profits outcry their purpose.

The second two-headed monster is the rather elusive though well-known Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It does good in the light of day, but during the dark of the night pure profit rears its ugly head. The company weaves a great story, but it fails to pass the authenticity test for employees and customers. Volkswagen, for example, talked a good game about clean diesel all the while devising software to trick emissions tests.

The third monster is one worth watching out for: Superman. Think of Clark Kent as your average company. During regular business dealings, you wouldn’t expect anything extraordinary from him, but when trouble arises he quickly turns into Superman, promising world salvation. It’s an unexpected turn of events, which for most people can be difficult to believe. Kolster says that he sees this superhero monster a lot in companies that jump on the purpose bandwagon, going from seemingly no purpose at all to speaking too loudly about one. The problem is that it feels forced and unclear. He also sees the Superman complex in companies that have a well-established purpose but that too often stay quiet about all the good they are doing—then they suddenly put a strong voice behind their actions. They need to consistently be modeling their purpose to employees, customers, and investors.

Kolster’s advice when it comes to avoiding the two-headed purpose monster is to KISS: keep it simple, stupid. Think about these three monsters and which is most alive in your company:

  • Loudest voice at the moment: profit and purpose compete
  • Jekyll and Hyde: good in the daylight, evil after dark
  • Superman complex: promising too much or staying too humble

What can you do personally to help resolve that two-headed monster at whatever level you lead? How can you help get clear on purpose and make sure it takes a front seat to profit when necessary?

Don’t Be Afraid to Show Your Passion

When you get clear on your company’s purpose and move it to the center of your organization, you will attract employees and customers who connect with you at that deeper relationship level. If you are not clear or you don’t weave purpose throughout the organization—expressing the passion you have for that purpose—you’re going to get a lukewarm commitment. If you have a magnetic clarity however—showing how your purpose is true, fits your business, and contributes to your success—people will buy in and follow you, whether customers or employees within your team or companywide.

Consider the outdoor clothing and sports gear company Patagonia. Its business is its cause, centered on “a love of wild and beautiful places.” Fitting business with purpose, the company is committed to preserving natural habitats, slowing the decline of the environment, and advocating for the restoration, maintenance, and health of the planet. To leverage its environmental impact, the company donates at least 1 percent of its sales or 10 percent of its profits, whichever is greater, to grassroots environmental groups to support conservation efforts around the world. When shopping at Patagonia, customers feel a sense of relationship with the company’s history and cause. When they walk out of the store, they do so with more than clothing or gear: they walk out as participants in the Patagonia mission.

For those companies that are clear on their purpose, their customers’ and employees’ values, and their commitment to doing the right thing first, taking a stand—invoking a moral mandate—becomes a way of life. As a self-described “activist company,” Patagonia maintains an open leadership position on environmental causes. A visit to its website can begin with a call to support a current cause—“Defend Bears Ears National Monument,” for example. In this case, the company provides a multimedia presentation to inform people about the issue and how they can get involved, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind what its mission is all about. The company is authentic. It stands for its principles, and it believes in and demonstrates them through action, putting skin in the game by providing time, resources, and energy to support the causes that it holds dear. Passion is key.

We are reminded of the time we met with a CEO of one of the largest companies in the world to talk about his company’s efforts around purpose and sustainability. His company has been a leader in this regard, and we looked forward to the interview with anticipation. We fully expected a passionate, inspiring appeal for how business would play a role in making a future our children would want to live in.

Instead we got a methodical litany of all the reasons why doing good made good business sense. We were told that the millennials would demand it, that talent wanted it, and that social media was amplifying these “trends.”

He then went out of his way to tell us that “this is not some kind of moral crusade; it is simply good business.” We know that doing good and having purpose is good business, but the fact that something is good for business is not necessarily inspiring. We decided to push him a little harder, hoping there was something more behind his company’s decisions than the business case for purpose.

As the interview proceeded, we applied some pressure and asked more focused, in-depth questions. Finally, he said, “Well, look, we all can see that it’s simply not working! We all want our children to be able to eat the same fish we can eat and enjoy the life we can enjoy.” It had taken an hour-long interview, but the real passion behind the company’s efforts had come to the fore. Suddenly, we felt inspired. His language changed as he talked further about sustainability and the company’s conscious decisions that connected less with its financial goals and more with its purpose—its reason for doing business in the first place.

Getting started is difficult and activating purpose is tricky, but understanding the purpose that you want to embed in your organization will put you on the right track. Whether it begins with crafting a powerful purpose statement or answering questions on core values, activating purpose and advocating for your mission will unite your company around the revolution. Purpose never works as merely an external marketing strategy, and in the end our leaders and employees are the ones who determine if the purpose has life.

Excerpted with permission from The Purpose Revolution by Dr. John Izzo and Dr. Jeff Vanderwielen

John Izzo
 is president of Izzo Associates. He has spoken to over one million people and advised over 500 companies, including IBM, Qantas, the Mayo Clinic, Verizon, RBC, TELUS, Walmart, DuPont, Humana, Microsoft, and IBM. He is the author or coauthor of six books, including Awakening Corporate Soul.


Jeff Vanderwielen
 is vice president of consulting at Izzo Associates and a former senior change consultant at Ernst & Young with 20-plus years of experience helping organizations manage large-scale change and articulate a compelling purpose – their core good – as the organizing center for their vision, strategy, and culture.