Using Purpose to Unlock Innovation (Part 1)

Your car broke down. You send it to the car repair shop and they can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. As they scramble to find an innovative solution:

  • Mechanic (A) cares more about what his boss thinks of him, when’s his next promotion, his next holiday, and
  • Mechanic (B) cares more about fixing your car better, faster and cheaper?

Which mechanic is more likely to succeed?

Following Imperative’s global survey (in partnership with LinkedIn Talent Solution), Mechanic (B) is more likely to succeed. The survey found those who are intrinsically motivated to find purpose in their jobs consistently outperform their colleagues and experience greater levels of job satisfaction and well-being, regardless of country, gender, or ethnicity.

In 2014, I could see a cliff coming for Personna’s recruitment business in Singapore. We weren’t fighting with traditional known competitors, but mighty tech titans dressed up as grandma. She sells you technology, then eats you up – this was our little red riding hood moment. Technology was making it better, faster and cheaper to match employers and candidates. How do we remain relevant to our customers?

Meanwhile, the business was growing, our clients from Singapore and the region were demanding more from us, and we were extremely busy. Was there really a need for change? And if we have to change, what do we change to? There were no clear answers.

We iterated new products and services. Our initial services were half-baked: free workshops that led nowhere, personality assessments that left customers with that “So what?” feeling. The failures were crushing.

Over three years, we iterated our products eleven times to create today’s Fight Club programs.

When facing the unknown, purpose is clarity. Here are three takeaways in using purpose to unlock innovation:

Insight 1: Purpose is personal, change is personal

Innovation is impossible without change. Organisations don’t change, people do. Change is deeply personal. It is tough – it feels like death by a thousand cuts.

However I was willing to fight for it because the change was personal. I reflected internally on what I really wanted to do. I discovered the part of my job that I enjoyed most were the creative conversations. We were building products where we support leaders to build exciting purpose for their organisation.

Insight 2: Every team member needs to choose change for themselves

With each iteration and failure, instead of speeding up, the team slowed down. I often had the thought bubble in my head, “Is this a kindergarten, should I fire everyone?” That’s when I realised, I chose change, but they didn’t. The team was resisting change because to them, it felt like my purpose, not theirs. In turn, I was frustrated that they didn’t jump in with the reckless abandon I wanted.

To unlock innovation, the team needed to choose and decide whether this change is worth fighting for.

Insight 3: New ways of working – Accountability & Communication are key

Faced with unknowns, we needed clear goals and measures to track our progress. There are no silver bullets.

Not only did we face steep learning curves in pivoting the business, we had to unlearn old ways of thinking and communicating. We integrated our purpose statements into day-to-day activities, from Marketing to Onboarding, to stay focused.

Change is the lifeblood of businesses. It can feel like death by a thousand cuts. It’s tough, but purpose can make it easier. Research from the E.Y. Beacon Institute and Harvard Business School shows that companies that lead with purpose are more likely to be profitable.

Connecting teams with purpose brings measurable business impact.

More on this series:

Part 1: Why Aligning Purpose Matters for Innovation

Part 2: From Personal Purpose to Impact

Part 3: From Team Purpose to Growth


Curious to learn how to stand in your circle of power and unleash the force for positive change? Join the Fight Club monthly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.

About Roger Grant, CEO of PERSONNA

Roger helps people unleash the force for positive change to deliver transformational business growth.

He has more than 20 years of experience leading small highly empowered teams to create innovative customer-centric tech services, including the launch of Nokia’s first enterprise mobile device support service.

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