Purpose Must Come from the CEO

Recognize This! – We can all help each other find the meaning in our work. Purpose, however, must be established by the CEO.

Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Company is CEO of the Year, according to Chief Executive magazine. I’m not at all surprised and quite pleased to see this commendation for Mr. Mulally. He is very deserving of the recognition.

Bnet dissected his recognition based on the criteria Chief Executive sets for winning this honor, especially the category of “moral landscape,” which is defined as “courage, integrity, reputation and having a coherent and high purpose embedded in the corporate culture, due in part to the CEO’s example.”

Bnet author John Baldoni commented on this:

“Purpose, as supported by my research, drives clarity because it enables people to see the big picture. Even better they see themselves painting part of that picture.”

This idea of “purpose” is quite important – and quite different from meaningful work. Any employee – at any level – can help another employee understand the greater value and meaning of their work by recognizing and appreciating that person’s contributions and efforts.

Purpose, however, can only be established by the CEO/company head. As Baldoni rightly states, purpose must come from the top down – and it must be conveyed and communicated in such a way that all employees understand where it is the CEO is marching and how they each can help them get there. Mulally did this with One Ford – a clear vision supported by clear values and objectives to achieve that vision.

My CEO, Eric Mosley, and I wrote about this in our book, Winning with a Culture of Recognition, quoting Mr. Mulally:

“I really focus on the values and the standards of the organization. What are the expected behaviors? How do we want to treat each other? How do we want to act? What do we want to do about transparency? How can we have a safe environment where we really know what’s going on?”

The values and behaviors you emphasize are the basis of your culture – and the foundation for establishing the purpose of the organization. Making this real to every employee is the critical leap. Recognizing employees when they demonstrate behaviors reflective of those values and in contribution to achieving the One Ford vision makes it real in the daily work of all employees. That’s where so many companies fail. A vision is only a vision until it’s real and personal in the work.

What’s the purpose of your organization? Does the CEO make this clear or is it left to individual employees to assume and infer?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

7 Responses

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  3. John Bell says:

    There’s a lot of leadership talk about vision, culture and strategy. Love the idea of bringing ‘purpose’ into the success equation and suggesting it begin with the CEO.

    • Derek Irvine Derek Irvine says:

      Thanks for stopping by, John. I like how you phrase – purpose “begins” with the CEO. This is very true. Any purpose acted upon by the vast majority is nothing more than a pipe dream. It must be carried out and through all employees.

  4. […] On Purpose: “You don’t teach people how to build a ship, you teach them how to yearn for the sea.” […]

  5. […] would add one bit of clarity on the “consistent everyday actions” – recognize, praise and appreciate people for their efforts and actions that support your organization’s purpose. That makes it real to employees, giving […]

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