Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Developing Your Team Purpose

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Guest post by John Izzo, PhD and Jeff Vanderwielen PhD

Today’s product managers wear many hats and are required to be motivators, counsellors, mentors, and enforcers. It’s difficult to balance competing job priorities and some leaders do a great job of truly engaging with their teams. And many others, despite their best efforts, manage to motivate the top performers but can’t seem to get the whole team rowing in the same direction. We found that to create a common goal, it’s vital to ramp up your purpose as an organization. Here, we will share from our book The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good  how to develop and polish your team purpose statement.

Purpose Revolution

Why Purpose

Purpose is our reason for being, the reason we get up in the morning, and it is more than simply about money and status. We all desire meaning and want to contribute to something good in the world. We want to make a difference in a way that is meaningful to us and connect to something bigger than ourselves. As Joseph Campbell said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

Today’s employees are hungry for purpose in their work but few leaders are offering it. Research shows that 60% of employees want their work to have purpose and 86% of employees want “believe it’s important that their own employer is responsible to society and the environment, with over half (55%) feeling it is very important,” so we know that leaders need to pay attention and start talking with their people about what their work really means.

Talking About Purpose

One of the key ways to engage team members with their purpose is to talk about job purpose instead of job function. Once your team comes together to discuss its true value proposition to the customer, each employee can start to think about their individual role in contributing to the overall success of the company. At Disney parks, the real product being delivered is happiness, so the job purpose of everyone from the janitor to the senior chef is actually spreading happiness. The job function varies from person to person: selling tickets, tending the garden, preparing food, but the deeper purpose of every person’s job is to make the park guests happier.

It’s not hard to imagine how this mindset helps bring more purpose to everyone’s role. When you can help people connect with their job purpose—so that they see it as separate from their job function—they discover how their position can be a calling and not merely a job. Their engagement and performance will increase, and they will be more content at work and in their personal lives. Explaining purpose to others and driving purpose in an organization take practice, but once mastered these skills can make a big difference to the success of a team or company.

We regularly work with companies on defining their higher purpose. We help them build purpose into their mission statement or develop a separate purpose statement. Discussions about purpose always engage team members and make them feel connected as team.

Here is short exercise to start thinking about your company’s higher purpose and how to create a purpose-centered mission statement. Consider the following questions and write down your answers.

  1. Why does our company/team exist? What contribution do we make to our employees, customers, communities, and the planet? How do we make the world a better place?
  1. What’s our company’s background? Why was the company started in the first place? Who are the founding members, and what was their mission and vision? What does our founding purpose and initial success tell us about who we really are as a company? How does our team live this purpose or contribute to the next chapter in the story of the company?
  1. What has been our journey, and what aspects of it have been critical to our success? What moments in history or what people really helped define our company?

The answers to these questions are important. You have just created a short, simple purpose statement!

Now look at your answers using the following criteria and rate them on a scale of 1 to 3 with 1 being false, 2 being somewhat true, and 3 being true.

_____ Authentic. It is genuine, true to who we are.

_____ Compelling. It sparks interest and moves people to stretch boundaries.

_____ Congruent with what you really do. It fits the nature of our business, mission, and values.

_____ Scalable. Employees at all levels of the organization can relate to it and make it their own.

_____ Attainable. It is realistic and doable.

_____ Connects with the talent we want to attract and retain. It fits with the interests and values of employees and recruits.

_____ Connects with our customers. It fits with the interests and values of our customers.

_____ Connects with our investors. It fits with the values of our investors.


Now add up those numbers to create a total score

_____ Total score



Less than 16: Room for improvement on purpose

17–20: Good start on purpose

21–24: Excellent purpose

Now you’re set to discuss how to leverage higher scores and ways to improve the quality of your purpose so that you can have a purpose that matters. Your team will feel the difference.

John Izzo is co-author of The Purpose Revolution and president of Izzo Associates. He has spoken to over one million people and advised over 500 companies, including IBM, Qantas, the Mayo Clinic, Verizon, RBC, TELUS, Walmart, DuPont, Humana, Microsoft, and IBM. He is the author or coauthor of six books, including Awakening Corporate Soul.

Jeff Vanderwielen is co-author of The Purpose Revolution and vice president of consulting at Izzo Associates and a former senior change consultant at Ernst & Young with 20-plus years of experience helping organizations manage large-scale change and articulate a compelling purpose – their core good – as the organizing center for their vision, strategy, and culture.

The Product Management Perspective: What are you doing to define, understand and live the purpose of your products and teams? Though you won’t find much about purpose on other product-related sites, it’s foundational to the core of successful products and companies. I recommend you check out The Purpose Revolution and find ways to incorporate it into your product organization.

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