The Power of Purpose


According to Jill Donahue, author of Engage Rx and creator of The Power of Purpose, when companies help individuals find purpose and meaning at work, they benefit from having more productive and successful employees. “Employees who feel like their work creates positive impact are more likely to feel fulfilled, promote their company to others and stay on the job longer. Studies have shown that inspired employees are almost three times more productive than dissatisfied employees and millennials have made it very clear that they want to work for companies with a purpose beyond profit. Many walk out of jobs because they feel they are unable to ignite real change. Pharma already has that baked in; what could be more meaningful or impactful than saving people’s lives or improving people’s health? Why aren’t we doing more to focus on this?”


For Donahue, the work that needs to be done is helping employees get in touch with their purpose and how it fits into the larger purpose of the organization. “When people believe in their company’s purpose (or what Dan Pink would call the big P) and can clearly articulate how their role connects to that purpose (or the small p as Dan would say), they achieve better results.


There is abundant evidence to demonstrate the causal relationship between culture, purpose, engagement and bottom line. For example, a study by Queen’s University found over a 10-year analysis of more than 110,000 surveys, bottom-line benefits to an engaged workforce including:


• 26% less turnover

• 100% more unsolicited employment applications

• 20% less absenteeism

• 15% greater team member productivity

• 30% greater customer satisfaction levels

• 65% increase in share price


People who consider themselves engaged at work are twice as productive, stay five times longer in their job, are six times more energized, take ten times fewer sick days, and help their peers 33% more.”


Jill interviewed Dan Pink to see how his research can help us in life science companies.

For Donahue, who runs The Power of Purpose workshop for MSLs, the results of connecting people to their purpose (patients) are profound. “Daniel Coyle captures this really well in his book, “The Culture Code”. He goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs, and U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six—and reveals what makes them tick. He demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation, and explains how diverse groups learn to function with a single mind. Those 3 skills are build psychological safety, share vulnerability and establish purpose.”


She explains that “Employees need to see how their work is connected to the big picture of company purpose. This is when patient centricity comes alive in an organization; when each person is connected to how they impact patients. If leadership help employees to find their own purpose and connect that purpose with company purpose, you will create a profound emotional connection. It’s like igniting a fire that spreads through an organization. That’s the missing piece as companies often don’t connect the individual’s purpose to the company purpose in a conscious way. It energizes and engages employees, promotes creativity and innovation, and helps businesses achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. And in our industry, it helps them gain the elusive trust and collaboration from HCPs. It is the key driver to make patient centricity work.”


By establishing a connection between employee and organizational values a collective, socialized dynamic evolves, making individuals part of something bigger than themselves through shared meaning and affective commitment or emotional attachment (Weick 1995; Meyer & Allen, 1990).


Kim Lafferty, VP, Global Leadership Development, GSK describes how GSK are overhauling their onboarding process and tying individual purpose to overall organizational purpose. “What we’re trying to do in onboarding is win the hearts and minds of new employees and to get them to think about their own personal purpose and their identity as they join us and what they want to accomplish personally and for GSK, and we’re also trying to ensure that their teams are supportive of them joining because it not just about them, it’s about the overall culture and the people that they’re working with and creating a sense of belonging and identity, so those are some of the things that we’re looking at currently”.


Lafferty explained that GSK has such a strong value-driven purpose that it can tend to overshadow the individual’s awareness of their purpose. “The do more, feel better, live longer purpose of GSK, helping other people, for example. What we started to look at was, are people really deeply thinking about their own purpose and how that complements GSK’s purpose and therefore what is that relationship between the two and we know that if people feel strongly about their personal purpose, their level of engagement and their emotional attachment to the organization is higher”.


According to Donahue, the process of connecting people’s personal purpose to the overall company purpose starts from the top down. Great strides are made when leaders openly share, with vulnerability, their purpose stories of why serving patients is important to them. “Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust, it precedes it and when leaders share their purpose stories, they connect with people on a human level and they inspire. That storytelling dimension; that candor, leads others to feel safe in sharing their why. Connecting to a greater purpose begins with having a clear definition of your own personal values and story. All employees should be encouraged to reflect on what values they regard as their highest priorities and deepest drivers. Companies should also integrate purpose into their hiring, learning and development programs and performance management systems — tying them to behaviors that embody the organization’s purpose.”