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Deep Purpose offers a compelling structure for thinking about how to pursue business performance and societal good.

Deep Purpose

Deep Purpose

by Ranjay Gulati


1.18K reads

Deep Purpose: The Premise

Workers are attracted to companies and stay at them when they feel like they’re connected to a motivating purpose, surveys have shown. And so managers have turned to “purpose” as a tool to deploy amid challenges recruiting and retaining talent over the past year.

But what does it really mea...

Convenient Purpose Isn’t Enough

Convenient Purpose is when organizations talk about making the world better because it makes it easier to recruit, retain, and motivate employees or market to customers, but their practices are detached from that rhetoric.

“Win-win” approaches claim to maximize both profit and socia...

The North Star Of Purpose

When pursuing deep purpose, leaders orient their organizations existentially around the ‘North Star’ of purpose, articulating a conscious intent to conduct their business in a more elevated way.

Purpose in their minds is a unifying statement of the commercial and social proble...

One Solution To Many Problems

 Deep Purpose directly addresses many of the pressing leadership questions of our time—including how to weigh financial performance and societal impact, how to talk about purpose most effectively, how to establish a strong culture, and how to successfully have individualist and inclusive...


The best way to activate deep purpose is to increase the care you show to individual employees.

Superior Business Performance Using Deep Purpose

Four ways that deep purpose delivers superior business performance:

Directional—Purpose guides the company’s growth. Bühler, for example, proactively sought to slash waste and energy and water usage at its customers’ plants, which unlocked deeper partnerships and focused it...

Leadership Approach: Rooting Purpose In The Past

Knudstorp discovered a mantra carved in wood during Lego’s early days, “Only the best is good enough,” and used the phrase to evoke the continuous improvement needed to turn the company around. A forward-looking purpose rooted in an organization’s history carries extra weight.

Leadership Approach: Moving Beyond Slogans To Stories

A fundamental task of leadership is telling a “Big Story” or “master narrative” that critiques the status quo and issues a rallying cry toward a desired future. One narrative model is to interweave “self, us, and now.” That involves telling stories of defining moral decisions in your life, defini...

Leadership Approach: Unleashing Individuals

Individuals thrive when they can identify their own personal purpose and express it through their work. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is known for welcoming nonconformity among players, focusing on their individual performance, and forging trusting relationships with them.

With an organization unified around purpose, there is greater trust and momentum. That allows for increased employee autonomy and focus on loosening tight bureaucratic structures to allow for collaboration across the company.

Four Phenomena That Can Derail Purpose

Personification—The departure of a founder can leave a company adrift if the new leadership doesn’t succeed in looking both back and forward.

Death by inadequate measurement—It’s often hard to measure execution against long-term societal purpose. That means...


Companies can deliver exceptional value to stakeholders and elevate themselves beyond a merely commercial logic by energetically and inconveniently pursuing a reason for being.

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