When your company lacks purpose, what do you do?

A lot of businesses don’t stand for anything.

At least, nothing beyond growth and profits.

And increasingly that’s not enough.

Not enough to attract and retain talent.

Not enough to protect reputation in a storm.

Not enough to build allies and innovative partnerships.

Not enough to encourage product and service innovation.

But solving this problem is really tough.

Bolting on “corporate purpose” where none existed previously can’t be done overnight.

Doing so creates just another corporate policy to be ignored.

And purpose statements, bolted on, breed cynicism.

There’s nothing like woolly new age sounding management fluff to cause internal derision in a business.

So what do you do if you are big, have no purpose but now recognise that having one might be helpful?

I think there are three choices:

1) Wait until your board hires a visionary (or semi visionary!) CEO who can make this happen through sheer personal energy and belief, over a number of years.

2) Hope your current CEO has a “road to Damascus” moment like Wal-Mart’s Lee Scott apparently did post Hurricane Katrina. Or see if you can make that moment happen by showing him/her the challenges/opportunities out there.

2) Use your lack of corporate purpose to create a pilot internal engagement campaign asking what employees believe their business should stand for.

Demonstrate the value by measuring the resulting motivation changes and then scale them up.

Build a champions network for sustainability and purpose. Then feed the results back to the board and try to inspire existing leadership to listen to their people.

Doing it this last way might not work.

But it’s surely a lot better than drifting along without any purpose at all

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