Can you help your people gain purpose without resignation risk?

If you help an employee gain a greater sense of purpose, could they have an epiphany and leave? They might, however you should also weigh up the consequences of doing nothing. A line manager recently told me that he saw inaction as a greater risk, where people lack ‘zing’ and teams fall short of their potential.

I find that ‘purpose’ is a fuzzy concept – it may be used to describe anything from helping charities to personal missions, team focus or organisational direction. Decoding what it means is the first step in the process.

Giving people time and space for reflection may indeed set in motion a process that ends in resignation. Arguably, if they aren’t totally invested and inspired in their work then it could be the best outcome for all concerned. On the flipside, equipping them with the means for figuring it out improves the strength of the employer-employee relationship.

I come at this with some experience after a personal purpose-driven crisis that led to me blindsiding my boss with a resignation letter and, although I have no regrets, I know that a some guidance would have helped me make better informed decisions at the time.

Not everyone looks forward to honing their sense of purpose. In team sessions there will be some eye rolling and arm crossing; some people are thinking “I’ve got better things to do” or “that’s for others in the room – I don’t need it”, and that’s fine, but you’d also be surprised how quickly they buy-in once you get started.

I vividly recall an employee who seemed disengaged at first disclosing how aimless his life felt and how excited he was to have a method for improving things. Not only that, hearing colleagues’ perspectives and getting to know each other better is valuable too. It doesn’t require over-sharing – let people go as far as they want and don’t push them further.

Some companies, like Unilever, do ‘purpose’ really well and develop raving fans. Every job they advertise gets way oversubscribed and working there is viewed as a trophy for people’s CV. According to former CEO, Paul Polman, they register ‘pride in company scores’ of 90 percent compared to a global average of 15 percent and their attrition rate is half that of any peer in any market they operate in.

You can help your people gain a greater sense of purpose by helping them reflect on their key goals in life, how that marries up with the work they do and the organisation / industry they do it in.

Your task is to work out how best to support them in that process, and you may be pleasantly surprised how little it costs compared to dealing with the consequences of sudden resignations or performance management.

Phil Preston helps individuals, teams and organisations decode purpose to improve their performance and impact. You can contact him via hello@philpreston.com.au

Image credit: cottonbro studioes via pexels.com

Making Quiet Quitting Obsolete

How do you make quiet quitting obsolete? Being a purpose specialist I guess you’d expect me to say it’s all about clarity and implementation of purpose, and you’d be right!

When purpose is well executed it leads to energising and exciting work cultures that take quiet quitting out of play. The catch? They are hard to create, but once you have them in place, a little bit of ongoing attention is usually enough to sustain them.

 

 

Is quiet quitting new?

Did you know that before quiet quitting there was the Chinese equivalent of “lying flat“? They both describe a philosophy of doing the bare minimum in your job, either because you don’t care enough or because you don’t see the point in sacrificing quality of life outside of work for the lure of corporate ascension.

I’m sure you’ve worked with people who have checked out of their job …or never checked in to start with. You see it in most work environments and thanks to social media platforms we are seeing a revival tour of this practice.

The evidence suggests quiet quitting isn’t a new concept at all. Gallup data going back 20-years shows there’s little change in the “actively disengaged” portion of the workforce.

 

 

What are your options?

Location, skillset or other factors may limit your alternative employment options, in which case the challenge is to reframe your work experience. That can be hard if there are deep-seated problems with co-workers, managers or the organisation itself.

If you do have alternatives, though, then I don’t see why you’d want to hang around in a role that isn’t interesting or inspiring if there are better opportunities out there. Life is finite, why choose misery?

For executives, leaders and managers, your task is to brighten up the work experience to avert any enthusiasm (or is it apathy?) for quiet quitting, and a purpose-led approach provides the foundations you need.

 

 

Making quiet quitting obsolete

First of all, it’s about a positive mindset and thinking creatively rather than falling into a defensive state. Secondly, attaining a deeper understanding of purpose and they way it manifests in your work and life provides the key to a considered and powerful response.

It’s one thing to say “purpose is great” and another thing to actually understand what you are doing and making it happen. A purpose-led response requires an awareness of, and focus on, these 5 layers:

  1. Personal – the goals or sense of purpose you gain outside of work
  2. Professional – purpose derived from developing your career and craft
  3. Role – purpose vested in the day-to-day role you perform
  4. Team – the dynamic, culture and sense of achievement in your team
  5. Organisational – the purpose of your organisation or industry you’re in.
 
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Each of these 5 components takes time and skill to develop, however it’s a useful blueprint to work from. Do a quick self check-in now to gauge where you are at?

If these aspects are worked on and progress is made, then work is going to be a positive place where you and others can thrive. It doesn’t mean giving over your life to your employer – strong work cultures are built on quality (more than quantity) of human input.

If people around you don’t buy in to a purpose based approach, then you seriously have to ask whether they are doing themselves a disservice by being there? Other life choices may make more sense.

 

 

Next steps for you?

A purpose-led approach can make quiet quitting obsolete. However it requires the right level of focus from directors to executives to managers and frontline staff, plus a willingness to challenge the status quo.

The gains are hard won … and the rewards are transformational.

 

Phil Preston is a purpose and impact specialist. As a keynote speaker, facilitator, author and coach, he empowers positive change in the people, teams and organisations he works with. You can contact him via hello@philpreston.com.au

Copyright Phil Preston 2022, All rights reserved

Banner photo credit: Sander Sammy via unsplash.com

What is Purpose and Do Your People Have Enough of It?

The global challenges we face are increasing people’s desire to make a difference and act with a greater sense of purpose, however for many it feels out of reach because they lead busy and complex lives. Furthermore, if they feel fatigued, burnt out or disengaged from their work they’ll be more prone to consider career and lifestyle alternatives, leading to the risk of abrupt resignation.

Helping employees gain a greater sense of meaning and purpose gives them incentive to stay – but how can employers provide that support in a way that’s sincere, effective and non-invasive? To answer this question, we need to understand purpose and the different forms it takes.

Take a moment to think about what purpose means for you in your life?

From my work, I’ve found that a group of 10 people will usually come up with 10 different answers, however their answers will fit into one of four categories that I’ll outline further on. These categories will help employers form responses that reduce disengagement and resignation risk.

Meaning & Purpose

Can you imagine a life of constant pleasure? A life without uncertainty, distress or pain? Intuitively, our achievements would count for less if they came all too easily. Psychologist, Paul Bloom, notes “the most satisfying lives are those which involve challenge, fear and struggle”, otherwise why would people choose to run marathons or spend weeks in miserable conditions climbing mountains? If the pursuit of a goal requires us, for example, to develop new skills, overcome setbacks and be persistent, then reaching for that goal will have far more significance and meaning.

Dr Lisa Williams of UNSW points to studies where people with higher levels of meaning in their lives have lower incidence of chronic disease, divorce and loneliness, and increased health, wellbeing and social connectivity. Global research by Aaker et al has found that meaning plays a bigger role in happiness for people on lower incomes, hypothesising it’s because the struggle to attain basic needs is greater.

Purpose is more about direction and focus. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines purpose as “the feeling of being determined to do or achieve something” or “the aim or goal of a person”, and goes on to define higher purpose as “a more meaningful reason to live, work etc.” 

Therefore, you can do something with purpose or be purposeful in the moment, and aim for a higher purpose in life, which is when we focus on helping others.

Auschwitz survivor, Dr Victor Frankl, noticed that those who survived had a purpose, a reason to live such as project, goal or relationship. And Greta Thunberg reports she generally sat alone at home with an eating disorder before finding meaning and purpose in her climate crusade.

For completeness, the term happiness is aligned with feelings of contentedness, satisfaction and fulfilment. It is actually your own assessment of your achievements in life. Dr Richard Morris from the University of Sydney points out that being happy in the moment is an emotion, and not the same as the concept of happiness which accrues over time.

In short, meaning is about the value, significance and importance of the things you do and purpose is about direction and goals. Pursuing a higher purpose is about helping others and less about self-reward, and happiness is your own view of how well you’ve done.

Four Types of Purposeful Activities

After analysing a range of works on this topic I still struggled to explain the relationship between people’s everyday actions and their sense of meaning and purpose. Furthermore, I felt it should be universally accessible and not just for a privileged few. It shouldn’t rely on an individual being wealthy, attaining a higher educational level or having the leeway to take a year off to meditate in a mountain cave.

With this in mind, I reviewed workshop attendee responses to arrive at the realisation that there are four types of purposeful activities:

  1. Living – Having a good quality-of-life with access to food, clothing, shelter, safety, employment, healthcare, education etc.
  2. Wellbeing – Life has good moments as you experience pleasure and joy, social connection, belonging and an absence of distress.
  3. Thriving – Being positive and excited about life, using your strengths to great effect, living your values and achieving goals.
  4. Giving – Contributing to something bigger than yourself by proactively helping others and making a difference.

Reflect again on the question posed earlier about what purpose means for you? Where does your answer fit in this framework? In the ideal world we’d have all four levels covered but the reality is that life often gets in the way!

One person in a workshop group saw their purpose as providing for their family, which correlates to the ‘living’ category. Another wanted to feel valued in their job (‘wellbeing’); another wanted to feel motivated to take on each day (‘thriving’) and another wanted to help the environment through their work (‘giving’). These categories are not sequential – meaning that you don’t need to tick the ‘living’ box in order to reach the other levels.

In listening to interviews with people who lived through the 1930s Great Depression in Australia, I was struck by the consistency of their stories. They said that, although basic living was hard, they were the best times of their lives! Why? Because they had to help each other and the connections, friendships and bonds they built became treasured. It’s proof that a higher sense of meaning and purpose can be achieved even when our basic quality of life is strained.

The Shift Employers Must Make

The good news is that there are measures employers can take to increase the ‘stickiness’ of their workers by helping them gain a greater sense of meaning and purpose – even if they lead busy and complex lives. It will require flexibility because some people see their job as a means to an end and focus on purposeful activities that are outside of work, whereas others may strongly align their work with purpose.

According to KPMG, 86 per cent of CEOs say that purpose is critical in forming a competitive employee value proposition, therefore it’s reasonable to assume that employers who can deliver what employees want will be well placed in the war for talent. Larry Culp, CEO of GE told Fortune Media:

“Increasingly, recruitment and retention is about more than the corporate whole. It’s about position and purpose…There was a point in time when people said, ‘I want to work for GE.’ Today, people are more focused on addressing climate, or being in health care, or in aviation.”

Employers should put more effort into finding out what purpose means for their people in order to devise effective ways of partnering with them. Otherwise, employees may see their firm as just another employer – a contractual relationship – rather than a valued partner, heightening the risk of voluntary turnover.

This happened to me 14 years ago. My job was interesting, challenging and well paid, but I’d been on that career path for a while and had a personal crisis when I realised I didn’t want to get stuck on those ‘train tracks’ forever. When I told my boss I was leaving there was no amount of money that would have convinced me to stay.

What I lacked back then was perspective and process, a way of framing my situation and seeing the full range of options available. I just panicked and left. In hindsight I now know that clarifying what purpose means for us at a given point in time and being supported in our pursuit of it is invaluable, and it’s a very cost effective way for employers to reduce disengagement and turnover risk.

If you’d like to collect your thoughts and contribute to a better overall understanding of meaning and purpose, I invite you to do this mini-assessment.

About the Author

Phil Preston is a purpose development expert who helps people and organisations maximise their impact. You can find out more on his speaker website, or visit the business purpose project.

You might like to follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter or make contact via hello@philpreston.com.au

Should Recruiters Be Worried if Their People Lack a Bigger Purpose?

Purpose has evolved beyond the forms of social good that we are familiar with such as giving, volunteering and responsible business practices, to something that is much more strategic and core to success. As Simon Mulcahy of Salesforce notes:

“Societal issues are becoming business issues”

This shift has huge implications for employees because younger generations seek a new type of purpose ‘experience’. It also gels with the evidence provided in Tribal Leadership that employees in high performing cultures feel bonded by collectively taking on a noble cause – something bigger than the company itself – which equates to having clarity of purpose.

Recruitment firms have a natural tailwind in this regard because employment is viewed as being good for society, however they will struggle if they fail to evolve and take the extra steps needed to clarify their purpose and make it real to their people’s everyday work.

With talk of ‘the great resignation’ due to greater flexibility and working professionals reviewing their priorities and purpose in life – a deeper dive into this issue could hardly come at a better time for recruiters from both a staffing and client perspective.

Recruitment industry authority, Ross Clennett, invited me to collaboratively review the sector’s approach to purpose and present the findings to recruitment business owners.


WHAT’S CHANGED?

Younger employees expect so much more from their employer than previous generations, with Gen Zs wanting purpose to be core to their work, and 61 per cent saying their biggest fear is being stuck in a job that isn’t fulfilling. 

This shift in employee needs can be characterised in three distinct ways:

  1. Work is more than a role or career pathway, young people want to work for an employer who is a partner in their life’s goals.
  2. Not only do they want to work in a dynamic team environment, their day to day work must be connected to a higher cause.
  3. Culture and leadership is important, and they want to be inspired by the overall purpose of their organisation.

 

 

HOW HARD IS IT?

A recent executive survey by Brandpie found that 60 per cent of CEOs who have or want a company purpose admit they are uncertain about how to enact it – research that is consistent with Porter Novelli’s findings that 87 per cent say they need help navigating purpose and the societal issues of the day.

On the flip side, leading companies are already realising the benefits of purpose. Food and beverage company, Lion Co, has a purpose of “bringing people together to be sociable and live well” which may help explain why it took on the full strength beer market with a mid-strength beer and won. They also screen job candidates for their purpose ‘mindset’ in the recruitment process. Why? Because this is a non-negotiable feature for their company culture.

 

RECRUITMENT INSIGHTS

We covered a lot of ground in our sessions, so I’ll summarise three of our key insights:

1. PURPOSE QUALITY VARIES

In analysing the purpose statements of seven large recruitment companies, their quality was variable. The main reason being that some statements spoke more to their financial or market differentiation ambitions than to the benefit to society their business aims to create.

 

2. COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

We looked at five examples of using a purpose lens to create financial or market advantage, including a major recruitment firm that supports youths who struggle to gain access to regular employment opportunities.

Not only is their program highly engaging for staff, they benefit commercially from the closer relationships they build with their own customers (large corporations), connecting them with a new market segment and convenient solution to some of their corporate social responsibility obligations.  

3. VALUES ≄ PURPOSE

We looked at best practice in how companies structure their ‘purpose’ and why values are not the same as purpose. Values are the highly prized features of your culture and organisational DNA that you see as being essential to your future success, which is quite different to the ‘social objective’ conveyed by your business purpose.

One of our session attendees mentioned they were in the process of articulating their purpose and there was confusion with values, so in the discussion we were able to work through this together.


START WITH GENUINE INTENT

If there’s one important lesson that comes from companies that have successfully articulated and implemented their purpose, it is that you have to be genuine and prepared to just get started!

Delivering purpose profitably – as distinct from making a profit and giving some back – requires greater proficiency in social, economic and environmental outcomes. It may require working with new partners in new ways and you’ll have some reality checks along the way.

Ross pointed to the leadership of Talent International’s Richard Earl, who talks with humility about creating their foundation arm, Talent RISE, saying that it took a few goes to get their initiatives working in the way they’d intended.


HOW DO YOU RATE?

A purpose statement is essential, however it counts for little if your people don’t understand what it means, believe in it or know how it could or should impact their every day work. You can ask your people the following questions to gauge how well you are doing:

  • Is our business purpose well articulated?
  • Do we understand why it is what it is?
  • Does everyone take it seriously?
  • Do we ferociously protect it?
  • Do we embrace our team’s contribution to it?
  • Do we understand how it drives business performance?
  • Do we use it to guide the decisions we make?
  • Are we encouraged to call out instances where our actions compromise our purpose?
  • Is there congruence between what we say and what we actually do?
  • Are we attracting and retaining the best talent in the market through our purpose?
  • Is everyone inspired by our purpose?

Purpose requires patience and persistence, however it will pay off because it is the ‘ticket to play’ for every business in the ‘purpose economy’ that we suddenly find ourselves in. 

Recruitment firms are no different, hence their owners and leaders would do well to connect their people to a purpose bigger than simply filling their clients’ jobs with the best candidates.

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Phil Preston is a purpose speaker, strategist and founder of The Business Purpose Project. He is the author of Connecting Profit with Purpose and co-host of Corporate Conversations on Purpose. You can contact him via phil@businesspurposeproject.com

7 Story Types that Make Purpose Inspiring & Real For Your People

An executive of a large company recently confided to me that they were having trouble making their purpose ‘real’ for their people. In other words, the return on their comprehensive purpose transformation process is nowhere near its potential. This is a common problem, so how do companies gain greater traction with their purpose?

Apart from crafting a great purpose statement, the implementation plan needs a well rounded internal communications strategy, and drawing on these 7 story types will help:

1. THE ORIGIN STORY

This is the story that people need to hear over and over again so they know it off by heart. It’s the simple explanation of why your organisation has the purpose that it has.

If you drew heavily upon the founder’s journey then so be it – that’s a key part of the story; but if you didn’t, explain why your purpose statement is what it is. It could be, for example, related to your alignment with the sustainable development goals, key attributes of your company, a project that gave you unexpected insights, a rapid shift in customer needs or a moment of truth in adversity.

2. THE EXPERIENTIAL STORY

Imagine if every employee could relate a personal and positive story that came from living your corporate purpose? These stories have currency because they come from the heart. Don’t be shy in tracking them down and encouraging everyone to find and tell their own. The caveat here is that they must be genuine!

3. THE INTEGRATION STORY

People aren’t inspired by a purpose statement on its own – just ask some of Facebook’s current and former employees. Stories of how purpose is integrated into everyday policies, processes and practices reinforces a purpose-driven culture. For example, I know of a property company CEO who had certain social outcomes hard-coded into his KPIs by the board.

4. THE HUMILITY STORY

The social, economic and environmental factors you deal with in delivering your purpose can be very complex or messy, and implementation may not always run as smoothly as you would like. Communicating what happened, the learning from it and how it informed your response going forward demonstrates humility, and conditions your people for the realities of purpose-driven change.

5. THE INNOVATION STORY

Purpose is a goldmine for innovation and competitive advantage. Reframing its purpose as “a better world for pets” saw Mars Petcare innovate and expand beyond products into service offerings.

Medical products company, Becton Dickinson, observed needle stick injuries for health workers rising and invested billions in developing, scaling up and distributing needle-less injection systems. Today, this line of business accounts for about a quarter of its revenues. These types of innovation stories bring profit, performance and purpose together in an inspiring way!

6. THE STRATEGY STORY

Purpose can prevent you from making poor investment decisions too. The CEO of Grosvenor Estate noted that clarity of purpose led them to some specific investments they may not otherwise have made and, more importantly, played a role in wisely avoiding others.

Unpacking strategic decisions that have been guided by your purpose are informative, especially for your leadership group.

7. THE COLLABORATION STORY

The collaboration story details how your people and teams came together internally or with external partners to help deliver an aspect of your corporate purpose. It’s likely that you’ll need to work with new types of partners in new ways – which isn’t easy – and requires a deft hand.

Again, your people need to know these things.

MAKING IT REAL

Implementing corporate purpose has many dimensions and a range of story types help to educate, inform and role model the behaviours you seek. Purpose is an ongoing journey rather than a one or three year project, so it’s worth getting into the rhythm of these more nuanced forms of communication and storytelling. Inspiring and empowering people with your purpose is one of the greatest opportunities you’ll ever have and making it real with the right types of stories will bring it to life.

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Phil Preston is a purpose speaker, strategist and founder of The Business Purpose Project. He is also the author of Connecting Profit with Purpose and co-host of Corporate Conversations on Purpose.

Email: ceo@businesspurposeproject.com

Banner image courtesy of unsplash.com

Do Companies Know How Gen Z Thinks About Purpose?

Gen Zs and Millennials are similar in terms of their entrepreneurial spirit, however they approach purpose differently, which has flow on effects for companies seeking to attract and retain the best young talent. And their approach is very different again to the Gen Xs and Baby Boomers that have gone before them.

This is the key insight Lynne Filderman and I gained from interviewing Ben Smithee in our upcoming episode of Corporate Conversations on Purpose. Ben’s company, The Smithee Group, is all about generational success and integrity, and helping businesses create something bigger than themselves. It’s what Ben and his team live by too.

We are seeing a big shift in mindset with respect to purpose. Older generations tend to have a mindset of making money and then giving some back compared to Gen Zs who want purpose to be central to their being – core to their job roles, their career and their lives.

Ben believes in and is committed to generational success, and his firm can play a role in helping his staff pursue their personal purpose through their work with him.

He notes that, although Millennials are focused on delivering social benefits through their work, Gen Zs are taking this to a higher level again. Yes, they want to be comfortable, but they want positive social impacts to flow from their core work. We can think of this as a quest for personal, professional and organisational coherence.

Ben’s agency works with these generational dynamics every day so he knows what he’s talking about. The question we wanted to explore further was: what does this subtle shift mean for the companies seeking to employ and retain them?

He sees this forcing a wave of alignment in large companies, where purpose is the North Star that underpins every product, policy, process and platform that the company creates. And this starts with brand, in Ben’s words:

“Brand is the only thing that separates you from the sea of sameness.”

He says that we live in a world where everyone can do everything, therefore you need the right people in place who are equipped to execute your business purpose on a daily basis.

We went into so many interesting aspects of purpose with Ben! You’ll find it all in our upcoming episode entitled Purpose & Generational Success: Where does purpose fit into the equation? Please drop me an email or message if you’d like notification of its release.

I also loved Ben’s comment after we concluded the formal part of our interview:

“This is the stuff that matters – it has 10 times more value than hearing me talk about how to run a digital ad campaign!”

We would agree! On behalf of Lynne and I, we thank Ben for coming on our show and thanks to our technology and media partners in Ampslide and 3BL Media for supporting us on our journey.

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Phil Preston is CEO of The Business Purpose Project, helping executives and leaders navigate the shift to the purpose economy. He is a purpose strategist, conference speaker and author of Connecting Profit with Purpose. You can contact him via phil@businesspurposeproject.com

5 Things You Need to Know To Create a Great Purpose Statement

Employees, customers and investors increasingly want to know your business purpose and be inspired by it – but how do you ensure your purpose statement is great?

Well, it’s a mix of art and science. Based on my analysis of hundreds of company purpose statements I’ve found there’s 5 things you really need to know before reviewing or creating yours.

1. Purpose and vision

Why no mention of the mission statement? I find they vary so much in their intent and form from company to company that, to be honest, we can live without them. Purpose and vision will suffice.

Your business purpose explains why you exist, the underlying reason for doing what you do. A vision statement on the other hand is the world you’d like to help create through your purpose. Some companies combine the two – which is okay.

The Australian telco, Telstra, is “building a connected future so everyone can thrive“. Building a connected future is the purpose, and everyone thriving is the vision.

Make sense?

2. Purpose is a societal benefit, not an activity

Purpose describes your benefit to society. Companies have historically talked in terms of financial goals (“we seek to maximise shareholder returns”) or activities (“we make cars”) instead of conveying a meaningful purpose (“we create sustainable transport solutions”).

Without purpose, the pursuit of profits is more prone to be at the expense of people and the planet. That type of business model has a very short use-by date.

3. Purpose is your North Star

Take purpose seriously because it is the North Star for your people and it’s what your customers expect. It drives productivity, performance and innovation.

If people see inconsistencies between your stated purpose and what you actually do or how you behave, then don’t expect to be an employer of choice. The best young talent will be excited by companies with genuine, lived purpose. Ignore them at your peril.

4. A purpose statement alone is not success

Facebook is a controversial company, drawing the wrath of regulators, users and even its own employees for the way it goes about its business.

And yet it has a great purpose statement: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together“.

The lesson here is, great statement ≠ success! You’ll need to integrate your purpose into everything you do and ensure your people understand how they are contributing to it.

5. Purpose is not a positioning statement

Because it conveys a benefit to society, it’s fine for your company to have a purpose statement similar to another – you are competing in the efficient and effective delivery of it.

Another reason for avoiding mission statements is, at their worst, they get hijacked by the marketing department and become a mash up of purpose, positioning and vision in one go.

Sigh.

Primed for purpose

Your executives, directors and leaders need to be on the same page and understand the benefits of purpose. Getting their buy-in is critical before assessing where you are at, reviewing your statement and then integrating it into your business.

Reach out if you want to know more or set up a debriefing on the topic.

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Phil Preston is the founder of The Business Purpose Project and author of Connecting Profit With Purpose. You can make contact via phil@businesspurposeproject.com