Harvard Business Review Special Issues Spring 2020

Harvard Business Review OnPoint makes it fast and easy to put HBR’s ideas to work. Handpicked by HBR’s editors to bring readers the most relevant ideas and insight on a single business topic, these collections include full-text articles, summaries of key points, and suggestions for further reading, plus content selected from hbr.org.

United States
Harvard Business School Publishing


finding the why in what you do

WORK SHOULD FEEL meaningful. But how does a leader ensure that’s true for every person in his or her organization? The collection of articles in this special issue can serve as a guide. Whether you lead a large company or a small start-up, you will learn how to craft a corporate purpose that pushes people to work toward that common goal. In “Why Are We Here?” Sally Blount of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Paul Leinwand of PwC explain why that starts with a well-articulated purpose statement, followed by hiring practices, work priorities, and investment to back it up. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the right purpose, they note, but the effort will pay dividends. Increasingly, your purpose will need to center on not just your own employees, shareholders,…

why are we here?

OVER THE PAST DECADE, “purpose” has become a management watchword.Since 2010 it has appeared in the titles of more than 400 new business and leadership books and thousands of articles. And no wonder: Many people—not just Millennials—want to work for organizations whose missions and business philosophies resonate with them intellectually and emotionally. Yet many enterprises struggle to define, much less live, their purpose. Read a typical purpose statement and you may find generic goals such as “being the company of choice” and “maximizing shareholder value.” Statements like those miss the heart of what drives a successful business. They don’t speak to what the firm actually does or who its customers are. Other statements include high-minded but vague aspirations—for example, “inspiring people to put their best selves forward every day” and “spreading…

idea in brief

THE PROBLEM Many employees feel disconnected from their organization’s purpose. In a recent survey, just 39% said they could clearly see the value they create. More than half weren’t even “somewhat” motivated, passionate, or excited about their jobs. THE SOLUTION Organizations need a clearly articulated purpose statement that answers these questions: What is your reason for existing? What value are you giving your customers? Why is your firm uniquely capable of providing it? HOW TO IMPLEMENT IT Companies must attract the right people, in the right roles; break down silos to facilitate cross-functional collaboration; invest behind the firm’s purpose; and make sure leaders personify that purpose through their words and actions.…

the statement debate

Within companies, people may disagree about the differences between purpose statements, mission statements, vision statements, and the like. If you examine corporate websites, you’ll find little uniformity regarding which of the various terms are used, and how. The multiplicity of constructs only adds to the challenge of writing a strong purpose statement. We’ve seen too many discussions about purpose devolve into semantic arguments or result in a proliferation of disparate messages. Rather than endlessly debate labels or the need for different types of statements, you should provide your employees, customers, and investors with clarity on three things: 1. Why does your organization exist? This is the place to start, and it boils down to a simple issue: Whose needs are you here to meet, and how are you uniquely equipped to…

put purpose at the core of your strategy

EIGHT YEARS AGO we launched a global study of high growth in companies, investigating the importance of three strategies known to drive it: creating new markets, serving broader stakeholder needs, and changing the rules of the game. What we found surprised us. Although each of those approaches did boost growth at the organizations we studied, there was a fourth driver we hadn’t considered at all: purpose. Companies have long been encouraged to build purpose into what they do. But usually it’s talked about as an add-on—a way to create shared value, improve employee morale and commitment, give back to the community, and help the environment. But as we worked with the high-growth companies in our study and beyond, we began to recognize that many of them had moved purpose from the…

idea in brief

THE CHALLENGE Companies pursuing high growth tend to follow three well-known strategies: creating new markets, serving broader stakeholder needs, and changing the rules of the game. But there’s another critical growth driver: purpose. THE INSIGHT Many companies consider purpose merely an add-on to their strategy, but the most successful companies put it at the core, using it to redefine the playing field and reshape their value propositions. THE BENEFITS A purpose-driven strategy helps companies overcome the challenges of slowing growth and declining profits. It also helps with the soft side of management: the people-related aspects of running a business, which so often prove to be the undoing of leaders.…