Capitalizing on Purpose to Weather the Storm

Article published on
April 29, 2020
In a webinar on April 29th 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip for the first time, Lucie Bourgeois, Founder and President of Umalia, invited three guests to reflect on the role of organizations within society and how they can act to make society better.

What quickly became apparent is that all three, from vastly different organizations, had been able to pivot quickly to address the challenges of COVID and all cite ‘purpose’ as key to having been able to do so.

For Louis Roy from Optel, the purpose of his company has always been clear. He founded Optel with the goal of social good, and that mission has stayed in place. Recently, they have developed a platform that provides transparency and efficiency to supply chains, providing limitless advantages to society. There is also the advantage for consumers to be able to make better decisions by agreeing to pay a bit more to know that the product come from a sustainable source. This platform also allowed Louis to detect the effects of the pandemic in real time.

When COVID-19affected North America, Louis was faced with hard decisions regarding the financial health of the company versus that of the individuals. He needed to temporarily lay off people to protect the core of the enterprise and ensure that afterwards, the company could restart and continue the mission. It was an exceedingly difficult and uncomfortable decision, so he was surprised and hearted by acts of solidarity and by how well people understood.

For Mirella De Civita from Papillon MDC, the supportive reactions of Optel’s employees is no surprise. She has seen that when purpose is built into a company, difficult decisions pass easier. Mirella, Founder, psychologist, and coach at PapillonMDC, points out that purpose supports staff by making them feel part of something larger. What they do at work becomes more than a job and is motivating, enabling them to go further especially in times of crisis. Purpose is also at the core of her enterprise and during the pandemic, Papillon MDC dug deeper, long work hours and lots of pro bono, to continue to help individuals develop, an extension of what they were doing before.

Mirella adds that having purpose also builds confidence in the employees towards the leaders and they can take comfort by saying that in the big picture, and because they trust the leader, all must be done to protect the company. Otherwise, employees can feel lost and without orientation. She stresses that those who had taken the time to build in purpose, even with hard decisions to make, are more likely to get across difficult times.

MireilleCouture, from the Red Cross, is with an organization whose purpose is clear, to improve the living conditions of the vulnerable in Canada and internationally. When demand for the services of the Red Cross rose, she had the reverse problem of other organizations, employees so engaged with the mission of the organization that some needed to be forced to take vacations. Preserving the mental health of her people was essential to keeping the organization strong enough to help others, thereby fulfilling its mission.

If purpose is key to engaging employees and helping them overcome periods of difficulty, then how best to communicate an organization’s raison d’être to those within? For all three guests, the answer is clear. Purpose is something you live rather than talk about. Once created, if it guides the choices you make, it is transmitted and develops organically. Lucie furthers the description of growing purpose by emphasizing that it needs to be anchored in the business strategy and to be coherent and aligned with business practices. Is it worth it? Absolutely, according to Mireille.She has witnessed a competitive advantage, an ROI to having purpose, in terms of talent attraction, retention, and engagement. For Louis Roy, purpose also has value. It is his energy source.

Final advice?For enterprises that have had to let people go, Mirella recommends staying in contact with them even if not all can be rehired. Merely retaining the sense of being engaged will help them enormously in finding purpose. The post-pandemic period will come, and companies will need people to be motivated and wanting to engage with a cause larger than themselves, larger even than an organization. Until then, we should all find the time to build purpose and realign.