Use Storytelling to Bring Your Core Purpose to Life

By Jessica Wishart

“I’m so excited to go to work today! I can’t wait to make lots and lots of money for my company so our CEO iStock_000044411494_Medium.jpgcan take his family on more fancy ski vacations!” Yeah, right! This is not what your employees are thinking… trust me. Most companies spend a lot of time thinking about employee engagement and how to motivate their people to do their best work. Truthfully, having a meaningful Core Purpose (not just making money) that your employees (and your customers) can connect with is the foundation for building a culture where everyone is inspired to do their best work every day.

Core Purpose comes from Jim Collins’ Core Ideology. In Built to Last, Collins describes Core Purpose as “the set of fundamental reasons for a company’s existence… purpose is broad, fundamental, and enduring; a good purpose should serve to guide and inspire the organization for years, perhaps a century or more.” The purpose captures the soul of the company, and it should come from the original founder’s passion.

How can you use this element of your strategic foundation to inspire your team? In a recent Harvard Business Review article, John Coleman posits that as a leader, you have to be a storyteller in order to help your team connect emotionally to the organization’s purpose. He claims, "while purpose is essential to a strong corporate culture, it is often activated and reinforced through narrative. Individuals must learn to connect their drives to the organization’s purpose and to articulate their story to others." Coleman offers a framework for telling the story of your Core Purpose.

3-Part Framework for Telling the Story of Your Core Purpose

  1. “Self" - Start with your personal story. Whether you’re the founder or not, there’s a reason that you are leading this company. Focus on the real events in your life and how those formed your own sense of purpose that’s connected to your company’s reason for being. Talking about how your own hopes and dreams led you to run the company can be uncomfortable for many executives - it requires you to be vulnerable and authentic. If you do this well and show emotion and reflect deeply on your own journey, it creates a very powerful narrative for others to connect with, which is the point of having a Core Purpose. If you’re not sure how to make the personal connection to your company’s purpose, Coleman provides the example of Steve Jobs’s speech at the 2005 Stanford Commencement ceremony.
  2. “Us” - After you tell your own story, focus on the experiences, hopes, and dreams that you have in common with your employees, customers, and stakeholders. Connect your personal purpose with the shared purpose and show how your own story is relevant for everyone else in the company; talk about the bigger picture of why they should care about this purpose, too. Coleman says, "A great 'story of us' establishes a community, its values, and how they came to be."
  3. “Now” - This is where you inspire some action; this is the battle cry. You have to ask others to go on this crusade with you to make a difference in some way. "These stories are most powerful when they are individually authentic, build to a collective narrative and values, and then seal the deal by asking the person reading, watching, or listening to join in."

Now that you have some tools for how to tell your story and build a compelling narrative around your Core Purpose, here are some practical ways to bring your Core Purpose to life in your company.

7 Ways to Bring Your Core Purpose to Life

  • Use it in your everyday language. Ignite passion in the company by connecting back to the purpose on a regular basis.
  • Use it when recruiting new employees. Your Core Purpose should attract candidates who are motivated by your story and want to join the crusade.
  • Integrate it into your orientation for new employees. Use it in handbooks and training materials. Onboarding is a great opportunity to tell your story so that new hires connect right away with your Core Purpose and find meaning in their work from the very beginning. If you can’t personally be there to tell the story for all new hires, consider producing a video using your storytelling skills to pass on the powerful narrative of your company’s purpose.
  • Help each person connect what they do to the Core Purpose. If you can show the link between the day-to-day responsibilities of each person’s job to the bigger strategic picture, this is very motivating. If your employees understand that they’re not making coffee, they’re making someone’s day, then they are more likely to approach the task in a more productive, positive, and meaningful way.
  • Use it in your internal newsletter. Spotlight employees who have done something extraordinary in pursuit of your purpose. Talk about how your company’s work is impacting the community or your customers in a meaningful way.
  • Keep it top of mind in planning sessions so you stay aligned to it. Refer back to the Core Purpose and anchor off it as you develop the rest of your company’s strategic and execution plans.
  • Use it to help you make strategic decisions. The elements of your strategic foundation are all a filter for decision-making. Anytime you’re evaluating opportunities, ask, “How does this help us live our Core Purpose?"

Think deeply about your organization's purpose and your personal connection to it. If you can find ways to share that powerful story so your employees feel their work is meaningful, you won't have to worry about motivating them. They'll be passionate about doing the best work they can in pursuit of your common dream.


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Jessica Wishart


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images