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How to create a purpose-driven culture

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe can mean different things for different people but it largely refers to the energy and purpose of an organisation—it’s reason for being—and how this purpose enables connection and belonging. It is the authentic alignment of individual purpose (what inspires us personally) with the mission and values of an enterprise. When these elements come together, culture thrives.

Purpose-driven culture

In my work I am constantly surprised by the vast spectrum of opinions about purpose, and specifically, purpose-driven culture. Most people understand vision and values and how these influence employee behaviour and culture in general. But when it comes to aligning the intentions and actions of an enterprise with what inspires its people, challenges arise.

Many ‘old-school’ managers, whose skills were wrought in a hierarchical and ‘top-down’ business era, think purpose is altruistic, a ‘nice to have’ and ‘non-essential’ for business. Alternatively, they misinterpret purpose altogether as their companies mantra or mission statement. On the other hand, progressive leaders, those people with appetite for change and intuition for guiding their organisations into the future, understand that having a clear and enduring purpose is vital to growth and progress. Importantly, even if they don’t fully understand how-to go about it—they intuitively sense a purpose-driven culture is the right approach.

Having a clearly articulated purpose has clear commercial benefits

Purpose-driven companies attract and retain the best talent, they build loyalty and trust with customers, and increase returns for shareholders. If you’re a leader in an enterprise considering ways to improve culture and engagement, having a clearly articulated and enduring purpose will ensure the people your organisation exists to serve remain at the forefront of its focus.

The Energy Project ‘How is Your Quality of Life at Work’  reveals:

Employees of a purpose-led company are more engaged, more satisfied, and 3x more likely to stay89% of clients believe a purpose-driven company will deliver the highest quality products and servicesMeaningful brands connected to human well-being outperform the stock market by 120%.

What’s even more compelling is that of all consumers globally a massive 72% would recommend a company with a clear purpose—that’s a 39% increase in the past decade.

Setting the record straight on purpose

It’s important to define what a purpose-driven culture is (and what it isn’t). Despite what many managers believe, purpose isn’t a statement on a wall, a checklist, or set of principles to follow. Rather, purpose establishes your leadership in your area of expertise, defines what you want to achieve and guides how that will happen. Pithy rhetoric, inspirational slogans and corporate values displayed on office walls that tell people how to be are not purpose.

Purpose is intangible. It is felt and experienced, like a calling. It’s what a person means when they say, ‘I’ve found my people’. Purpose is deep, resonant and permeates environments to create a sense of identification and connection that is so powerful—you would do almost anything to belong. Purpose is a reason for being that inspires and lights people up.

Considering the myriad of things that inspire and motivate people vary so significantly, it’s no wonder leaders find it daunting to meaningfully articulate a higher purpose for enterprise that has this effect. Not to mention the vast amounts of money wasted on half-baked culture and engagement programs that are doomed to fail before they even launch. Here’s the thing: purpose-driven culture is not a campaign or program—it is continuously co-created by its people and guided by a clear and enduring purpose—its north star that acts as a compass for transformation and growth.

Identifying a higher purpose for enterprise

Companies seeking new competitive advantages are recognising having a clearly articulated and enduring purpose as an effective strategy in the quest to forge long-term sustainability and yet, they are rarely equipped with—or even fully aware of how to develop—the necessary skills and acumen to transform intent into action. It demands new skills, experience and tools. Leaders must abandon agenda-driven corporate storytelling to identify what business they are really in—and engage with employees and customers alike to co-create its future.

Mobilising as a positive force in society has become an essential prerequisite in business.

At the 2016 Net Impact Conference in Philadelphia, Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, presented an inspiring exposé about the evolution of capital, saying: If we can harness the latent power of markets…of business, of capitalism—to a higher purpose than maximising shareholder value, we can unleash one of the most powerful manmade forces ever created… jobs with dignity and purpose, restore the environment, create pathways out of poverty, and reduce inequality.

In essence, Jay describes the impact that is created when enterprise strategy is aligned with a clear and enduring purpose. What is your higher purpose? How can you integrate purpose into everything you do to attract, inspire and retain the best talent? How can you create more impact, in more places and people’s lives, more completely?

To identify a higher purpose for your enterprise, ask the following:

Is there a complex social issue that intersects with your business?How can you create measurable commercial value by simultaneously addressing this problem?What is the narrative and ‘lived experience’ (what you love, believe and are committed to) that brings your organisation’s purpose to life?

Let me know what you discover?


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