Old Souls and New Brands: Why Leaders Who Understand Purpose Can Build a Magnetic Culture

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We can’t all be Uber. And right now, maybe we don’t want to be. Yet for all the rollercoaster riding of this particular start-up (and others like it), I believe even the most seasoned of leaders secretly wants this kind of magnetic attraction and visibility. One of the reasons we’re tempted to fixate on brands like Uber is that we want to hire the kind of bleeding-edge talent that start-ups like that attract. This is especially true when it comes to attracting Millennials, a group who has a very specific way of defining their purpose or sense of meaning and connecting it to their daily work. For example, two-thirds of Millennials would rather make $40K at a job they love than $100K at a job that doesn’t connect with their sense of purpose.

So, are the hip and cool start-ups more “purpose-full” than well-established businesses?

Simply… no.

Purpose is purpose. Without speculating about the deep motivations of the stereotypical start-up compared to the global corporation, it’s a myth that the younger/hipper/bearded tech companies are somehow able to summon more purpose than the big dogs of the corporate world.

I like how one author put it in a recent Fortune article: “…these fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-generation corporations are deeply purpose-driven, just as the new breed of startups promises to be… a century-old company has not only a knack for growing and managing a P&L, but also, perhaps, a heart and soul. How else could it survive that long?”

The stakes are incredibly high in the talent economy and every leadership team is feeling the pressure to create an external brand perception that attracts the best and brightest—the kind of talent we believe to be destined for the Uber’s of the world. It’s a branding challenge, to be sure, but it’s also a challenge of leadership alignment and authenticity. When you’re able to find and define your purpose and connect it to the talent challenge, then you’re getting it. But your leaders have to get it. Your teams need to get it. Then the culture of your company will communicate purpose.

Sometimes the big old corporations are the ones with the guts to take substantial risks and the brains to actually bring about lasting change over time. Hipster branding for the sake of “cool-ing up” an old brand is a cheap thrill. It won’t last. And it’s not authentic. Whether your brand has passed the 80-year mark or the 8-year mark, a purpose-driven approach to matching talent to culture couldn’t be more essential to any company’s survival.