On Creating a Purpose-Driven Organisation

I’ve been driving back and forth to Kent over the past week (long story) so my podcast consumption has dramatically increased. This HBR Ideacast on creating a purpose driven organisation was fascinating (there’s an article here on the same theme but the podcast is better) and it contained a few nuggets that I want to cut out and keep.

The podcast centres around an interview with Gerry Anderson, CEO of DTE Energy, and researchers Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor, and the story of how that company recovered from a financial crisis point in 2008 to triple its stock price in under ten years and not only survive, but achieve some quite spectacular results. 

My highlights…

  • On the power of honesty and belief in your employees:

‘We went to our people and told them that this was a very big event we were facing. We couldn’t promise how it would turn out, but we would promise one thing. We promised that the last lever we would pull to protect the integrity of the company would be a layoff. That we’d do everything in our power to prevent it. But in return, we said there’s something we need to ask of you. You need to go to bat for this company with an energy level and an intensity and a level of creativity that you never have before.’ (Anderson)

  • On the power of ‘discretionary energy’ as Gerry calls it:

‘I mean it’s a simple thing, but if you want a company to be excellent you have to draw people’s discretionary energy, their extra energy. Well, what do you give your extra energy to? I give it to things I care about and believe in.’ (Anderson)

  • On discovery:

‘…you don’t invent a purpose, you discover it…and oftentimes it’s latent.’ (Thakor)

  •  On evolving your purpose:

‘I realized that we needed to move from preservation to aspiration. And that…we needed to turn our people’s energy outward and help them realize that…we could be a force for growth and prosperity in our city and our community and in our state.’ (Anderson)

  • On authenticity:

‘The moment you have a purpose that’s authentic it becomes the arbitrator of every decision. Every decision is made in relation to that purpose.’ (Quinn)

  • On purpose-driven goals:

‘…you move from ego goals to contribution goals. And we have lots of science that shows you function differently when your purpose is to contribute to the welfare of the whole, or the welfare of other people. Purpose-driven people live proactively. They know why they’re here. They know what they’re trying to contribute.’ (Quinn)

There’s so much rubbish written about purpose, and so much cynicism, probably because it is usually either ignored or appallingly implemented. Meaningless value statements on the wall that are not representative of leadership behaviour, priorities or what people see every day.

People want to believe. They want to do work that means something. That’s why when it’s done right, it is properly transformative.


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