Purpose – why it matters and how to discover it

One of the characteristics of modern life is that we get so caught up in endless activity, that we never really think about where we are going, and what it is all for. Sometimes that’s because we feel we are too busy just keeping afloat, but even when things are going well, it seems self indulgent and superfluous to spend time really thinking through what is important to us. But having a well articulated purpose is critical to leading your team and making effective decisions.

Purpose is where the fun is
We often think of that purpose is a sort of sterile mission statement devoid of excitement and joy. But true purpose is about what matters to you – what gets you out of bed in the morning. When your work is meaningful then time goes faster, and you enjoy it. Purpose gets you through the tough times – do not underestimate it.

Purpose inspires your team
Contractors work for you because of what’s in it for them. Followers will give you “blood, sweat and tears” because they believe in what you are doing and share your values. Your purpose is what binds you together and enables your team to overcome difficulties and excel. Common purpose gives you a sense of identity and is a core part of building and maintaining your culture.

Purpose is the compass which guides you
It’s a fact of life that there are always more things you could do than you have time for. So how do you judge which to do? Work out whether they are taking you towards your purpose and that will show you which actions are central or peripheral to your goal. And sometimes there are things that seem sensible but actually make it harder for you to achieve your purpose. Keeping your purpose central to your work helps you avoid these “own goals”.

Discovering your purpose
Establishing why you do what you do can be a really empowering thing for your team to do together. But sometimes, starting with high sounding theoretical ideas can turn your people off. One good approach is to start by writing down all the things you do as a surgery. Then you group them together and look at what goals they achieve. And after that you keep asking why the goals are important until you get to the reason for what you do.

“We exist to help people in our community live longer and have more fun”
Most GP surgeries will come up with something along these lines as their purpose. But it is important to be clear headed about your purpose. The fact that you have high ideals does not mean that you can take your eye off the day to day running of the practice. You will help no-one if you aren’t solvent. Making money for the partners is not your core objective, but if you don’t generate enough income to attract new partners then the practice will eventually fail.

Use your purpose to connect with others
People are drawn to who you are and what you believe far more than your statistics and reports. Like minded practices who share your values can learn from your successes and may have already solved other problems you are grappling with. Recruiting people to join you is a lot more about how they feel about you and how it would be to work with you than salaries and benefits – although you do need to get the salary right too.

Purpose is essential for Leadership
Unless you imagine your practice is completely perfect you know you will need to lead your team to make changes. Purpose tells them the reason they should bother. Without purpose, they will be doing things to keep you happy and as soon as your focus changes they will tend to slip back into old ways. But they will continue with the new way of working when they are doing things because of a purpose they believe in.

Purpose is not a feel good optional extra – it is the foundation on which your team and your business rest. While it is important to take care of the day-to-day business of running a practice, if you get your purpose right you will be more resilient when challenges come and reap rewards in the long run.