My week of purpose and meaning and why it matters in any change involving people

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I’ve recently had a week dotted with glimmers of purpose and meaning. This was totally unintended but, as the week went on, through different events and presentations, I was repeatedly reminded why purpose and meaning are so important for us both as individuals and in business and particularly, when considering organisational change. So, what were my experiences and the takeaways?

Credit: Nathan Lemon, Unsplash

Credit: Nathan Lemon, Unsplash

First up, I went to a presentation by Kate O’Neill, author of ‘Tech Humanist’. As you can guess from the title of her book, Kate’s perspective is on the alignment between people and tech. Specifically, she focused on the alignment between business, automation and creating meaningful experiences. There were many takeaways from her talk but one point she made really stood out for me, “Humans thrive on meaning, common goals and a sense of fulfilling something bigger.” This is what makes us different to machines which, “thrive on succinct instruction.”

So, what did I learn from listening to Kate?

  • The common thread throughout Kate’s talk was around organisations having a really clear purpose and aligning their business outcomes with human outcomes. So, as business succeeds, it brings humanity with it.

  • Kate’s statement that, “experiences at scale, change culture” was a reminder how important it is for us to always talk about the human aspect of automation in the same breath as the tech or data

  • An example she gave around how Disney theme parks align tech and human approaches under a purposeful strategy, can deliver the right results for business. Food for thought.

My second hit around purpose and meaning in change was a brunch, courtesy of Riverford, a UK company that grows and sells organic food through its veg boxes (disclosure, I am a Riverford customer – I love everything about them). A year ago, Riverford became employee-owned (EO). At the brunch, as well as having some outstanding food, I met some of the Riverford team, my first ‘In Real Life’ interaction with the brand. The team I met were as passionate about the brand as the customers in the room and talking with one of them in detail about the EO, things had seemed to have only enhanced that. So, what did I learn?

  • The Riverford purpose was in the DNA of all the people I met from the business.

  • Strong leadership was clearly important as the organisation goes through the transformation of moving to an EO model. The founder’s name (Guy Singh-Watson) was mentioned throughout the day and his approach and involvement in the business, setting out and delivering the brand purpose and being a role-model through this change, clearly had a big influence on everyone.

  • The alignment with the organisation’s purpose (and the meaning this gives) meant that the folks I met from the Riverford team were hugely positive about the business and its success. This was infectious to everyone in the room. What a lovely way to spend a morning.

Finally, I spent an afternoon learning more about activism and social media at Bristol Social Media Week. As part of this, I heard from two members of Pussy Riot, the Russian protest performance group. From their presentation, you could hear the belief in what they do and why, like many activists. They are brave women and it was awe-inspiring.

So, what were my takeaways from my week of meaning and purpose? My takeaway from the Pussy Riot presentation really summed it all up for me - believing in something and knowing what you stand for is hugely powerful. This is particularly important whenever there’s any form of organisational change (or indeed other life change going on) - it gives you something to stand by.

This sense of meaning is ingrained in us as humans and, as Kate O’Neill mentioned, “purpose is the shape meaning takes in business.” Purpose helps customers and your employees ‘get’ what you stand for and decide if they share your beliefs as well as helping to keep your organisation grounded as you move through change. This is exactly why I created a manifesto for my own business – it helps people understand what’s important to me and my business and gives them a good idea of what they can expect from me.

This week was all about considering different perspectives on the world, the meaning that brings and the change people – and organisations – want to make. Hugely inspiring.

If you want to learn more…

About Riverford… check out Wicked Leeks, their online mag

About creating a manifesto for your own business, speak to the lovely Sharon Tanton of Valuable Content who helped to create mine

I support organisations and teams, helping to make the people side of change work better. I help with tools such as communication, coaching and wellbeing approaches to make sure that the people side of change is not an afterthought. I’d love to talk if you want to put your people front and centre.