September 27, 2019

My Purpose: Organization, Karma & Community


Aaron Hurst

My Purpose Pattern is: Organization, Karma, Community - the same as 12.1% of professionals. Here is how it has played out on my journey and drives me today to help change the nature of work.

Individual | Organization | Society

I enjoy helping people one-on-one and it is important to know that my work has a bigger impact on society, but I have always had the most energy and success helping organizations thrive. For me, organizations bring together the needs and complexities of people in the context of society so it is the best of all worlds.

At Imperative, I am driven to help solve the problem that 70% of our workforce in the United States is disengaged at work. This has horrible consequences for people and society. I believe the lever to create the change is organizations. Organizations know the impact of having 70% of their employees asleep at the wheel and can also see the incredible potential of a fully engaged team. CEOs know this first hand and are motivated to change it - they just haven’t found a solution. I believe the latest science around purpose as well as the innovations we are developing with our partners are incredibly promising solutions.

Prior to Imperative, I founded and ran the Taproot Foundation for a dozen years. Our goal at Taproot was to provide the marketing, tech, HR, finance and strategy services nonprofits need to thrive. Starting my career in the nonprofit sector I saw that these important organizations in the nonprofit sector were being left behind because they didn’t have access to these expensive resources. At Taproot, we catalyzed a $15 billion-a-year market of pro bono services for nonprofits and directly provided over $100 million of those services ourselves. While the goal of pro bono is to impact non-profit organizations, I also saw the tremendous impact it had on the volunteers themselves. It showed me how powerful purpose can be in transforming work and organizations.

Karma | Harmony

I grew up as an outsider in many communities and spent a lot of time seeing people “fight the power” and advocate for the underserved. But what really seemed to work was change driven by being the power, not fighting it. That is why I see using markets as the key to driving change in organizations.

We can lecture people forever on what the right thing to do is for them and it usually doesn’t work. We need to understand their challenges and opportunities and fit them into market reality, not ignore it.

At Imperative we believe that organizations have a moral responsibility to enable meaningful work, but we don’t try to get there by just telling this story. Instead, we show, rather than tell, the benefits of a workforce working deeply with purpose and the impact that has on the bottom line and an organization’s ability to remain competitive. We frame our work with my book, the Purpose Economy, that outlines why for an organization to ignoring purpose right now would be like ignore the information economy in the late 1990s. It is bad business and likely to lead to your organization fading in the market.

This is the same approach I took at the Taproot Foundation. We used research to show nonprofits that the most successful nonprofits used pro bono services. We made the case that the top performing nonprofits all had 10-20% of their budget met through pro bono services. We used the same logic for companies to drive them to adopt pro bono service programs for their employees. We used the platform of the White House to shout out the companies doing it and create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) to move other companies to act.

Community | Knowledge | Structure | Human

Futurists are also historians. We like to find patterns in how changes have occurred in the past and project them into the future. The first lesson this teaches us is the cliche that the only constant is change. Accepting that, solving problems isn’t about finding a short-term fix, it is about building the capacity within an organization to address the dozens of challenges and opportunities it faces every year, if not every day.

This is why I focus on solutions that are about building community around an organization. That community is then able to have the ownership to solve the problems as they arise in many forms over time. Strong organizations, communities and movements are all built around empowerment and shared ownership.

I conceived of the Purpose Pattern to help create a purpose-driven approach to enable organizations to more easily build and empower communities in support of their missions. Imperative’s Purpose Pattern helps find ways to connect people of shared purpose to support each other, their teams and their organizations. It moves beyond traditional, often superficial forms of organizing (function, seniority, affinity groups, etc.) and to a model that is based on something more personal and profound. It redefines all relationships—from those with peers to managers to customers. I see it as the new new basis for social capital formation.

One of the main reasons people loved doing pro bono service at Taproot was the community it helped them create with other professionals who shared their commitment to social progress. It also helped me understand that this wasn’t enough and that another layer of segmentation was necessary to truly harness this power - purpose patterns.

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