The way companies and organizations interact with society is undergoing transformation. We are in the midst of a fundamental rethink about the very priorities of business and the reasons we engage in economic activities. The effects of this transformation are yet to be determined, but we cannot afford to waste the opportunity to create something better. All the noise about "purpose" these days is evidence of a new direction and a new set of priorities, but the path remains unclear. 

Many sense opportunity and have sought to make a valid "business case for purpose" that will justify its implementation and calm the fears of those wary of the risk of change that is too radical. While perhaps a noble undertaking, these efforts will ultimately fall short of an adequate response to the monumental shifts that are underway.

What is clear is this: If we use purpose as a management or marketing technique to achieve an old set of ends — shareholder value maximization by any means — we will miss the point and the opportunity. Furthermore, this approach will inflict harm on our businesses when their real intention for profit surfaces, which is likely during this age of authenticity.

The social and environmental conditions we face today offer a purpose case for the very existence of business, and so one day every "business case for purpose" (no matter how brilliant) will inevitably prove flimsy.

We do not need purposes that strengthen existing business interests. We need businesses that aim themselves at solving the real problems we face and then relentlessly try to deliver. We need purposeful enterprises.

Here's a model you can explore to find out what they look like:

 

A purposeful enterprise comes to life when:

  • The organization is held together by the pursuit of a telos that answers the question “Who are we in service to others?” in a way that is meaningful to its stakeholders, reflects the organization’s identity, and serves as a guiding star to inform all choices.
  • Brand and culture align so that what the company claims about itself (brand, external identity) is the same as what is seen every day in the life of the company (culture, internal identity). This triggers organizational movement in the direction of the telos — or telosity.

Telosity   \\  tel-os-sit-ee  \\   (noun)

Definition: The root “telos” (intended end, purpose-for-others) with the suffix -ity, meaning state or quality, together describes being in a state of telos, which necessitates constant movement toward the fulfillment of that telos. Telosity suggests accelerating movement toward a chosen endpoint: the Telos lived.

The pronunciation of the word (like “velocity”), is intentional and another reference to the movement in a specific direction that telos implies. Telosity increases through continual movement toward the organization's purpose-for-others.

 

If you're interested in finding out more, check out our book on purposeful enterprises called For Goodness' Sake: Satisfy the hunger for meaningful business.

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