How a young millennial finally understood the big deal about company purpose.

15 September 2021

Late to the party: How a young millennial finally understood the big deal about company purpose

When I started my internship at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in autumn, 2016, I didn’t know what I was in for. Having spent the previous five years working in and managing cafés and teaching piano to primary school kids, I was used to working on my terms with a very clear purpose because it was wholly mine. This was not to last…

At the Kennedy Center there was a real emphasis on educating us on large organisational work culture which was imparted through regular classes and internal meetings with senior figures. The main theme of these classes was coming to grips with company purpose, and how that is articulated through their mission, vision, and values (MVV). Full disclosure, at the time I dismissed it as corporate nonsense (it took me a couple more years to stop raging against the machine) but this lesson has had a far greater role to play in my professional life than I ever thought it could.

Prior to working at 106 Comms, I was a Community Manager at a guardianship company. Although I had never heard of this industry prior to being hired (it doesn’t exist in Australia), I found it to be a fantastic business model for affordable and sustainable living. In a nutshell, guardship companies take over the management of empty buildings – usually business premises like banks or former care homes – and equip them for communal living on a licencing basis. Guardianships create communities in a city that can be difficult to penetrate, they’re environments that foster creativity and they make London life liveable due to the low licence fee (aka rent).

The company was a start-up and was only just starting to grow when I joined. I really believed in the community spirit and goodwill of the people living in our quirky buildings across London. In my role I was first point of contact for 600+ people, but I worked alongside colleagues involved only in the property acquisition or maintenance who had a completely different experience of the company and our work. I realised we need to unify our purpose so we could keep the bigger picture in mind as we worked together to deliver.

Although there was only about 10 staff at the time, I ended up with about 10 different opinions on what the company purpose was. So in consultation with the team, I wrote a mission, vision, and values. We were a young company and I faced some poorly veiled (but good-humoured) scepticism just as I had been a sceptic before. Sure enough, two months later and my beautiful PowerPoint collected binary dust as we all forgot our MVV and I learned a valuable lesson:

Company purpose must be a part of the conversation and the every day, otherwise it will be another ‘nice gesture’.

As the company began to expand into new areas, the lack of unified purpose began to lead to more fundamental differences in opinion in key decision making and it became difficult to reconcile our different visions. It was no one’s fault, but our priorities had deviated due to a lack of unified direction. Since joining 106 Comms I have been able to see how important a unified purpose across industry and organisation, and how effective it is when it’s working well. I carry out extensive interviews with employees for different campaigns, and the majority of the time interviewees cite alignment of values and purpose as the main appeal of the company and motivation at work.

As we move into a new era of hybrid working and increased use of the Alternative Workforce (aka freelancers and gig workers), a strong company purpose is crucial to expediate decision making and maintain service standards. What I once dismissed as corporate fluff is actually the glue that will bring together teams and set companies head and shoulders above the rest for employees, high quality talent and therefore for customers and stakeholders too.

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