Aligning purpose and culture

Chris Teague - 10 min

Purpose has been described as ‘a superpower’ by one of my favorite UK entrepreneurs David Hieatt, Hiut Denim and that is because where purpose exists, there is a powerful draw for people.

It knits groups together, so they become tribes. And the more we contribute towards a common cause, the higher the success of both the individual and the group.

So purpose helps unite people, it binds us together, and as a result it is very powerful as everyone feels equal responsibility to reaching a collective goal.

A lack of purpose can however make us susceptible to boredom, anxiety, and depression.

Conversely, having a strong sense of purpose and having an apparent reason to get out of bed every day makes life more focused and more fulfilling.

No surprise then, that the collective sense of purpose is considered the most important source of meaning in supportive work cultures. It makes us less self-centred; it makes us feel part of something bigger.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re an organisation of 5 or of 5000, whether you work in engineering or retail, we find there are a consistent set of insights from the most effective companies.

The 3 critical factors in any successful team/business;

  1. A clear purpose/cause - Why

  2. Pride in the badge - How

  3. Agreed set of beliefs and behaviours: A ‘Teamship Code’ - What


A CLEAR PURPOSE

Passion is personal, so tapping into it can be tricky. What might energise one person can isolate another, because my passion isn’t yours. By contrast, purpose is something people can share. It can knit groups together so they become tribes. I'm sure most of us are familiar with Simon Sinek and his famed book, Start With Why.

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Why? Every single organisation on the planet functions on three levels. What we do, How we do it and Why we do it. When all those pieces are aligned, it gives us a filter through which to make decisions.

Every company or organisation knows WHAT they do. These are the products we sell or the services we provide. Some companies and organisations know HOW they do what they do. The "differentiating value proposition" or "proprietary process" or "USP," these are the things that set us apart from our competition; the things we think make us unique or different from everyone else.

Very few people and organisations can clearly articulate WHY they do what they do. Why is a purpose, a cause or a belief. It provides a clear answer to Why we get out of bed in the morning.

[Ref: Simon Sinek. Start With Why]

ACTIVITY - PURPOSE STATEMENT

The number one question therefore to consider is do you have a clear purpose statement?

Your purpose statement is a sentence that clearly articulates your unique contribution and impact. The impact reflects the difference you want to make in the world, and the contribution is the primary action that you take towards making your impact. Together, these two components provide a filter through which you can make decisions, every day, to act with purpose.

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[Ref: Simon Sinek. Start With Why]


So purpose put simply is the appetite to generate something valuable for others, not just for ourselves. It's about "Giving" rather than "Getting". And where purpose exists, it has a powerful draw for people - it knits groups together, so they become tribes.

Assuming you do have a clear purpose statement then two important questions are;

Can you, your employees or colleagues articulate your purpose? And most importantly can you/they link what they do daily to the overall impact the business has on other people and in the broader world?

Case studies

Zappos & Hiut Denim are two amazing examples that showcase just how powerful it is to have a clear purpose and how that purpose helps focus and align everyone's energy within.

- Why Company Culture Matters | Zappos Stories

- Zappos Provides AMAZING Customer Service | Zappos Stories

- Do one thing well: The Jean Makers

- The Denim Company Who Makes Meghan Markle's Jeans


ACTIVITY - NO STUPID RULES

With your purpose statement to hand, consider your day to day actions, your processes and your procedures;

  1. Which of these positively contribute towards your culture?

  2. and which negatively contribute towards your culture?


TEAM CODE

You can't see culture, but you can feel it. Culture is not the funky office, the swing or slide, the lovely coffee or the beer fridge. Culture is what happens when no one is looking, it's the decisions and the actions everyone makes day to day, minute by minute. Trust is the glue that binds teams, and there is real power in knowing that you have people around you who can trust knowing that in difficult times, they will do the right things for the right reasons.

Camaraderie is the manifestation of mutual trust, and it's a potent accelerant of business culture as it emerges in the realm of purpose. It's about what you collectively do for the benefit of someone else [e.g. a customer or patient]. If you look at what makes people proud, it's when they've pulled together and collaborated because they have a strong connection with a purpose and their contribution made a real impact for someone else.

"We pulled together when the stakes were high when we had no resources when we were struggling with that crash in our IT platform".

Collective character is vital to success. Focus on getting the culture right; the results will follow. James Kerr, Legacy.

The All Blacks are the world’s most successful sporting team, undefeated in over 75% of their international matches over the last 100 years. James Kerr wrote a brilliant book called Legacy and I highly recommend you read it; despite it being based on the All Blacks it is not a book about rugby; it is a book about culture.

The book explores the secrets of sustained success by asking how do you achieve world-class standards, day after day, week after week, year after year?

Some of my favourite insights are;

• Better People Make Better All Blacks

• “To become an All Black means becoming a steward of a cultural legacy. Your role is to leave the jersey in a better place.”

• “It is the identity of the team that matters – not so much what the All Blacks do, but who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist.”

• “High-performing teams promote a culture of honesty, authenticity and safe conflict.”

[Ref: James Kerr, Legacy]

James states we must all play two critical roles in a team; a functional role, based on our role/technical skills, and a psychological role. Too often though, teams are built merely on the functional skills, and it is assumed that good team performance will somehow miraculously follow. This is never more evident than in professional football, where even the most expensively assembled teams often fail to perform based purely on the individual talents of each player.

Anything of value occurs as the result of team effort & camaraderie; where and when people set aside their self-interest and focus on creating something collectively that they could not achieve by themselves.


ACTIVITY - YOUR TEAM CODE

With the All Blacks straight talking approach in mind, what 3 codes would you like to build your culture on? I recommend this is a very useful exercise to complete with your team.

Take a look at our Team Code for inspiration.


SUMMARY

A collective sense of shared purpose is considered the most important source of meaning in supportive work cultures. It makes us less self-centred; it makes us feel part of something bigger.

So in summary when your organisation or your team aligns its culture and its purpose you’ll unlock to the benefit of all the four key components of people which in turn creates a virtuous circle of behaviour:

Pride in purpose: employees connect what they do daily to the impact their work has on other people and in the broader world.

This unlocks Energy: when people are clear of the value they seek to create they are able to better assess what’s important and therefore where to invest their energy to ensure the greatest return.

When people are clear of the value they wish to create for others they’re naturally Agile; not just their ability to think, respond and react quickly to improve customer-centricity, but also how people given real purpose can add tangible value through better collaboration, experimentation and empowerment.

Camaraderie: And when people develop a deeper, more personal connection to those they share experiences with, it fosters mutual trust, empathy and positive feelings towards them. These powerful bonds help create high performing teams and help reduce staff turnover, bringing significant cost savings.'

Reading List copy

People Activation Model

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Read our Activate series:

Article 1 - Employee engagement is dead

Article 2 - Change makers, not just communicators.

Article 3 - Just what is the purpose of purpose?

Article 4 - The Power of Camaraderie

Article 5 - Agility: The quest to create value