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On purpose

Determining the purpose that motivates you can be the key to finding fulfilment in life and success at work. Nikos Mourkogiannis tells ...

By Nikos Mourkogiannis . 01 March 2007

Determining the purpose that motivates you can be the key to finding fulfilment in life and success at work. Nikos Mourkogiannis tells you how.
On purposeYou are an MBA student trying to decide between similar offers from two rival investment banks. You are a middle-ranking executive weighing a potentially career-defining move to an international competitor. You are a board director approached for a CEO position at a company you don’t know well.

How do you make your decision? What factors should you take into account?

Obviously you will consider compensation, company performance, reputation and geographical location. But the most critical factor of all may not occur to you until it is too late: the purpose of the company, and how well it fits with your own predisposition and priorities.

People often think that companies only have the “purpose” of making money. But this is not the whole picture. Many of the most enduringly successful companies have been driven by something beyond profits, such as discovering new things, helping other people, producing excellence or becoming the best player in their industry.

A company’s purpose, in short, is the set of reasons for conducting business that resonates with people’s ideas about what is right or worthwhile. These ideas are personal; everyone has a unique view about which purposes are worthwhile.

But they are also typically rooted in one or more traditions articulated throughout human history by moral philosophers. These traditions draw on common experience and world views and have played a major role in shaping modern culture. Hence individuals from widely different backgrounds can often resonate with the same purpose.

A clearly understood purpose can link management and employees in a natural, unforced, and highly productive way. When there is a common purpose in an organisation – one that appeals to the moral ideas of a critical mass of employees – individuals are more likely to act with conviction and selfdetermination without being micromanaged.

Furthermore, if this purpose also coincides with the strategic strengths of the company, then the company will be on its way to long-term success. Purpose only has this force if it is pursued genuinely for its own sake. This is one of the great paradoxes of purpose: by aiming for an objective that is more important than money, companies actually make greater profits in the long term.

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