The Power of Purpose

Feb 14, 2019 | Leadership, Strategy

At MacPhie, we love to facilitate conversations on what’s new and interesting in the industry. One of the ways we do this is Podcast Club, which involves taking a deep dive on learnings from a podcast and how they may be applied to our context. This week, we listened to an HBR IdeaCast, titled: Turning Purpose into Performance. In this podcast, Gerry Anderson – President of DTE Energy in 2014 – shared the story of how purpose transformed his leadership style and ultimately led to a higher performing and engaged organization.

DTE Energy is a Detroit-based diversified energy company, developing and managing energy-related businesses and services nationwide. Like many other leaders, Anderson began in his role unaware – and to an extent skeptical – of the power of purpose in building high-performing organizations. The Great Recession of 2008 brought with it not only financial challenges, but also implications for employee engagement and performance at DTE. Traditional efforts, such as greater training opportunities, changing incentives and increasing managerial oversight, were proving ineffective within the organization.

During this time, one of DTE’s then Board members, Joe Robles, invited Anderson to visit some United Services Automobile Association (USAA) call centres. At that time, Robles was the CEO of USAA: a financial services group of companies offering banking, investing and insurance to people and families who serve, or served, in the United States military. When visiting USAA call centres, Anderson was surprised to see a culture of positivity, engagement and collaboration, despite the challenging economic times. Robles attributed the culture to what he viewed as a CEO’s most important job: to connect the people to their purpose.

Anderson brought Robles’ thinking back to DTE and produced a video that drew the connection between the work of DTE employees – from leadership to the on-site workers – and the community they served. The video excited employees and shifted perceptions; employees saw the higher purpose behind what they do. The video, not only improved organizational performance, but also became proxy for the development of a new purpose statement at DTE: “We serve with our energy, the lifeblood of communities and the engine of progress.”

We love the story behind what inspired DTE to develop their purpose statement – because it reinforces the power of purpose-driven leadership. Leaders play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of purpose that motivates their people and serves as a sense of competitive advantage for the organization.

The opportunity for senior leaders is to tap into your organization’s change agents – who are often found at the mid-management level – to build purpose-driven leaders. These leaders become the evangelists who embody and reinforce the passion they have for your cause. Going back to Gerry Anderson’s story at DTE Energy – their work didn’t stop after their purpose statement was crafted. Efforts were made by change agents to entrench that purpose throughout the organization’s systems and processes, from onboarding practices to how corporate meetings were structured.

Whether you are seeking to build purpose-driven leadership within yourself or others in your organization, we’ll leave you with one of our five Magnetism questions as a thought starter: How are you or your organization helping to change the world?

In our view, purpose-driven leadership is magnetic leadership, and fundamental to creating high-performing organizations.

By: Srusti Pandya

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