Goodbye “top-down” corporate purpose. Hello purpose 2.0

By Diane Gorsky, MBAWith rising levels of scepticism, top-down corporate purpose is floundering. However, something powerful happens when individual and organisational purpose align. 


Embraced by consultants and business communicators across the globe, corporate purpose hit buzzword status in 2021. Terms such as brand purpose and purpose-driven strategy led the way. It’s not surprising that the purpose bandwagon was soon followed by the label “purpose-washing” to convey a sense of overall scepticism. And in the context of the “great resignation,” employee disillusionment is more significant than ever.

Not so long ago, I experienced a well-meaning but misguided campaign in top-down corporate purpose. My employer’s commitment to purpose was enthusiastic but lacked consultation and meaningful staff engagement. The result was unfortunately negative, ranging from employee eye-rolling to an overall sense of demotivation.

While this highlights an example of poor execution, this does not mark the end of corporate purpose. Purpose has been an important topic dating back to the philosophers of Ancient Greece, and continues to capture the attention of business strategists, organisational psychologists and employee wellness planners. Purpose is a fundamental human need. Purpose makes us resilient, helps us recover from negative events and is a component of psychological wellbeing.

In the post-pandemic landscape, corporate purpose can play an important role in the strategic rebuilding and regrouping process. There is a growing business case for purpose, supported by increased customer loyalty, staff retention and higher market share gains. Purpose is also an important contributor to employee engagement, organisational commitment and workplace wellness.


Aligning personal and company purpose

An important shift occurs when we create meaningful links between personal and corporate purpose. While keeping organisational mission at the core, employers play a key role in bringing this conversation forward.

How can companies move from the top-down corporate lens to a world where individual and organisational purpose align? Here are few practical approaches:


  1. Provide sessions on personal purpose and links to company purpose

Purpose is notoriously amorphous and difficult to put into words. Employers can offer sessions to help employees clarify personal purpose and paths to connect with company purpose and values.

  1. Communicate ESG and corporate accountability internally

Corporate social accountability reports are typically prepared for a range of shareholder, stakeholder and external audiences. It’s a missed opportunity when these advances are not highlighted internally. Sharing this information with staff can help employees identify opportunities where personal and organisational purpose align.

  1. Leadership training

A reset of leadership norms and competencies may be required. Purpose comes to life when managers can release top-down approaches and allow space for individual purpose within the context of the corporate mission.


About the author:

Diane Gorsky: Consultancy specialising in organisational development, purpose-driven strategy and practical planning approaches. With an MBA and 20+ years senior leadership experience, areas of expertise include workshop facilitation, leadership development and workplace culture. Diane is an experienced international speaker providing webinars and training sessions on the topic of individual and company purpose. She is the author of “60 minutes to Reveal Your Purpose” (in press).