Turning personal purpose into action
Purpose is powerful stuff when done well. ‘Psychologists describe it as “the pathway to greater well-being” and doctors have even found that people with purpose in their lives are less prone to disease,’ according to a HBR article (1). However, the same article revealed that less than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose.
The article inspired us to work on personal purpose at our recent global partner retreat. The nine brandgym partners worked in small groups to define their personal purpose and, importantly, action plans flowing from it. We found a renewed sense of vigour and energy from the process, leaving with motivating and inspiring actions at both a 5 year and 12 month level. The process also allowed each partner to see how their personal purpose flowed from and reinforced the purpose of the brandgym as a whole: to help brand change agents achieve their ambitions (brand, business & personal).
Below I share some highlights from the process, led by our partner Jon Goldstone. He drew inspiration from the HBR article and also from his time as VP of Marketing at Unilever. The exercises are designed to push you to get past the generic, useful suspect phrases (“Help people succeed”; “Drive brand growth”) to make the purpose as inspiring as possible (see table below). You do this by reflecting on your life story to identify major themes related to strengths, values, and passions, prior to then creating a a purpose and action plan.
1. ’CRUCIBLE STORIES’
Think of times when you were stretched to your limits. These stories can be focussed on confronting a difficult situation at work or in your personal life. The story should have a beginning, middle and end. Look back and reflect on how these experiences shaped you and your attitude towards life.
In my case, a crucible story was co-founding the Paris office of marketing consultancy Added Value at a relatively young age of 29, having never worked in France, never been a marketing consultant and only having a working knowledge of French! I learnt the hard way how to open doors, pitch and then win projects, back in the days without email or mobile phones! It took months and months to get the first small project and another few months to get the first big European project with Disneyland. This experience taught me the need for persistence, stamina and self-confidence.
2. PEAK PERFORMANCE STORIES
Think of two occasions when you were at your peak performance. Sportspeople often call this ‘flow’: times when you are in your ‘sweet spot’ and achieving amazing things without having to think or work too hard at it. With these stories in mind, list four to five of your greatest strengths..
In my case, both stories were about brand positioning workshops, one with WD-40 and one with Ab Inbev. In particular, the stories focused on the process of taking hundreds or even thousands of pages of business data, plus fresh insight and a post-it storm of team ideas and then working to create an inspiring brand strategy ‘story’.
3. DRAFTING YOUR PURPOSE
Using the answers from the exercises as raw material, write down elements of your purpose. Start with a list of thoughts, impressions and truths. And then start to write a draft purpose statement. We found it really helpful at this stage to share the draft purpose and the stores that led to it with a partner for feedback.
My first stab at personal purpose was ‘To develop brand strategies that create clarity and inspiration’. This had the right elements, but lacked colour and distinctiveness. My partners pushed me to make it sharper and more distinctive. We captured the ideas of brand strategy as a ‘crafting’ process, the concept of storytelling (that I love doing in this blog and in the brandgym books) and finally the thrill of transforming messy, multiple sources of data into a clear picture. The refined purpose is ‘To craft inspiring strategy stories that create clarity from chaos’.
4. PURPOSE-LED ACTION PLANS
The final, important step is to use your purpose to inspire and guide action plans. It helps to identify the ‘blockers’ that prevent you from fully living your purpose. And the strengths you’d like to leverage. We worked on broad goals and then five year and 12 month actions for each. An example goal for me is to continue to revamp, update and expand our strategy toolkit so we can all create stronger strategy stories.
In conclusion, we found working on personal purpose to be inspiring and energising and something worth doing if you’re in the 80% of leaders that don’t have one!