Purpose: Closing the Gap between Saying and Doing

By Jonathan Walters


On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a crowd of close to 250,000 thousand martin luther king jrpeople and delivered one of the most purpose-filled declarations in history. His clarion call to transform chaos into a symphony, to exchange despair for hope, and to overcome injustice with justice for all culminated in his most famous cry: “I have a dream!” It was this dream, this overarching purpose, and his unrelenting hold on its truth that shaped his entire life's work and continues to impact the world decades after his death. That is the power of purpose! What was so significant about King’s legacy is that there was never a gap between what he said needed to be done and the work he was willing to do to make it happen.

As CEOs, leaders and managers, there is a lot we could learn from his example and how a clear Core Purpose can impact our businesses and organizations for good as well as expand our influence in the communities we serve.

“The sense of being part of something greater than yourself can lead to high levels of engagement, high levels of creativity, and the willingness to partner across functional and product boundaries within a company, which are hugely powerful,” Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard Business School.

These are all characteristics we want to see on our teams—engagement, creativity, cross functional collaboration. We know that unleashing this type of potential can truly have a transformation effect on the work we are able to do and the goals we are able to achieve, but too often, it just doesn’t seem to happen.

While building and growing a company with a well defined Core Purpose is not a new idea, it often remains an elusive concept when it comes to practical, everyday application. EY and Harvard Business Review co-authored a research project which revealed some startling results on the power of Core Purpose for businesses, their employees and customers. They were able to segment each of the respondents into three categories defined by their embrace of purpose in their companies:

  • Prioritizers (39%): Purpose clearly articulated and understood
  • Developers (48%): Purpose understood by some areas better than others
  • Laggards (13%): Purpose not well understood or communicated

After surveying over 400 business leaders from companies in small, mid-market and enterprise levels from around the world, researchers found that…

  • 89% of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction
  • 84% said it can affect an organization’s ability to transform
  • 80% said it helps increase customer loyalty.

But when asked if this was a reality within their organizations, only 46% responded that their company actually had a strong sense of purpose while another 44% stated that they were trying to develop one. When evaluating why this seems so difficult, Michael Beers, Director of the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership, commented:

“You can’t just adopt it…It has to be driven, operationally and in depth, by the CEO and the top leadership team...It’s easy to state a purpose and state a set of values. It’s much harder to enact them in the organization because it requires you to continually search for consistency across many disciplines and many activities.”

An additional gap between the Prioritizer and Laggard organizations was found when evaluating revenue results with 58% of companies that are truly purpose-driven reporting 10% growth or more over the past three years, and with 42% of companies that don’t have a fully-embedded purpose reporting a lack or even decline of growth in the same period.

The executive feedback is clear that having a well-defined Core Purpose makes a significant difference in long term organizational health, improved employee engagement, and the ability to successfully innovate. However, in order for strong execution to become a reality, it is essential that a framework of ongoing Performance Metrics and Leadership Development is created to close the gap between saying and doing. Rhythm Systems can help you focus on these two areas defined below and can provide practical guidance to help any CEO, leader, or manager activate their teams with purpose.

goals and purpose

Performance Metrics: The key drivers that measure the success, health, and growth of your business on a consistent basis. Building out the following patterns will clarify expectations and define the work that needs to be done to move the company forward.

  • KPIs measure and track the numbers you need to know weekly, quarterly and annually.
  • Priorities are what you do—a specific action statement that drives you towards accomplishing a goal.
  • WAM (Weekly Adjustment Meeting) is consistent time for the team to help you maintain team Focus, Alignment, Accountability, and work on Solutions to achieve your quarterly plan.

Leadership Development: In order to make purpose a reality, leaders must be able to communicate and align their teams towards a common goal. Growing individuals and teams require consistent investment and resourcing, but when done well, it can have a significant ROI.

  • Accountable Leaders & Teams is a 12-month program designed to build and sustain the habits and culture necessary to achieve high levels of accountability and deliver consistently positive business results.
  • 1:1 Executive Coaching is a personalized leadership development program designed to help executives discover strengths & weakness as leaders and create strategies to maximize the impact they have on their teams.
  • Job Scorecards empower individuals and teams to assess their own performance, own the results, identify personal development needs, and significantly multiply their won contributions to the company.

So where is your company when it comes to living out your Core Purpose? Are you Prioritizers, Developers or Laggards? No matter where you fall on this spectrum, our Rhythm team of onsite facilitators are experts at helping organizations just like yours Identify, Test and Refine your Core Purpose so you can close the gap between what you say and what you do.

At Rhythm Systems, our Core Purpose is to help people and organizations achieve their dreams and goals—let’s get started on yours today!


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For additional blogs on Core Purpose, check out these out:

Define your Core Purpose - why does your company exist?

7 Questions to Test Your Core Purpose

Use Storytelling to Bring Your Core Purpose To Life

Core Purpose: It's All About You, Not Your Customers (Sort of)

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Jonathan Walters


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images