There is an overwhelming and growing body of evidence demonstrating the improved cultural and financial performance of purpose-led businesses.
But having a business purpose isn’t simply a one-off communications campaign that talks about your values.
For a business to benefit from the transformative power of purpose, it must become embedded in the culture, woven through everything you do, and all your internal communications should be aligned with and support this purpose. Purpose should inform how you engage your audiences, help create guidelines for operating, and ultimately direct how you do business, and who with.
There are five essential steps to effectively embed purpose within your organisation:
- Clearly define your purpose and use it to guide your decision making
- Establish your lead storytellers
- Make it personal for your employees
- Celebrate purpose-aligned achievements
- Review systems and processes in line with your purpose
1. Allow purpose to guide your decision making
Holding your purpose in business as your ‘North Star’ ensures any business decision, big or small, is guided by what you stand for and what you believe in. Your purpose is unique, personal and specific to your organisation…
For example, PayPal’s brand values and purpose are around ‘inclusion’ and considers its employees as its most important stakeholders. Consistent with this, PayPal is proud of – and vocal about – its commitment to LBGTQ rights.
When North Carolina passed a law in 2016 preventing cities from passing non-discrimination policies based on gender identity, PayPal cancelled plans to open their new operations centre in Charlotte – which they had announced just two weeks’ previously. They explained that every person, including each of their employees, should have equal rights under the law.
Their decision to withdraw from Charlotte demonstrated the authenticity of their purpose, their value of inclusion and their stated commitments to employees' rights.
2. Establish your lead storytellers
In our ‘Connecting Your People To Your Company Purpose’ webinar in September 2020, Ali Fox-Robinson, Head of Colleague & Community Engagement at Pfizer, said:
Leadership is hugely important [to embedding purpose within an organisation]. I feel privileged that I get to work with our UK country manager, Ben Osborn. He really believes personally and professionally in Pfizer’s purpose: ‘breakthroughs that change patients' lives’ and having him lead our business and tell our authentic purpose story, both internally and externally is inspiring and motivating for all our employees.”
When compelling leaders visibly and publicly articulate their belief in the business purpose, it has a big impact. Not only do they inspire others within the business to find their own way to embody the collective purpose, they also instill faith in what the business stands for. This is what makes purpose authentic, inspiring, and effective.
3. Make it personal for your employees
Ensuring all employees not only understand and can articulate your business purpose, but can also relate it to their own personal experiences, will create a genuine sense of community and connection to the business. Having one chapter of your internal communications campaign built specifically around this can help make the bigger picture relevant and more easily understood by individual employees.
Ali Fox-Robinson of Pfizer, told us: “When we launched our purpose [at Pfizer], a few years ago, we created a campaign around breakthroughs. We asked our colleagues to upload their own breakthroughs, personal and at work. People told us about being able to get their children to sleep through the night for the first time, conquering their fear of heights to do a charity skydive, creating a brand new team at work… It was really successful, mainly because we could all see the connection between the business purpose and our own personal achievements.”
Another example of a company wide internal communications campaign engaging employees in purpose is from truck manufacturer, Scania. They hold an annual climate day and stop all operations so employees can join sustainability training.
When employees see that their personal achievements and values can be linked to the company purpose and celebrated by their managers and colleagues, it is hugely motivating and inspiring. When employees connect the personal with the professional, the purpose becomes authentic and meaningful to them. This authenticity and meaningfulness are becoming increasingly important with Gen Z, as they appreciate purpose and values over salary.
4. Celebrate purposeful achievements
Celebrating and rewarding the individual and team achievements that align with your business purpose matters when it comes to embedding purpose into your organisation.
The best place to start is to define the team goals and business wide KPIs that align to your purpose and create a plan to reward employees for hitting them. Internally recognising and rewarding purpose driven employees reinforces what you are trying to achieve as a business. For example, patient health services business mdgroup’s purpose is “Expect Remarkable”, which they bring to life in one way with their 'family matters' internal newsletter, which showcases the ‘remarkable' achievements of their employees in and outside work.
5. Review systems and processes in line with your purpose
As your newly articulated and defined purpose is put into action, there will undoubtedly be some company practices, processes or systems that don’t align.
Systematically work through your company processes, identifying which ones will need developing or overhauling. This could be as simple as creating a more purpose-focused interview and recruitment process, to as involved as reviewing the carbon emissions produced by the business and implementing more sustainable processes or reviewing suppliers (McKinsey, 2019).
What’s important here is taking action to show the organisational commitment to align to your purpose. It sends clear signals to employees, shareholders, customers and your supply chain that your purpose is important – and may inspire them to make positive changes themselves. This is purpose in action.
Embedding your purpose into the DNA of your business is a process that requires commitment, a clear plan, and action. The financial, cultural and emotional rewards being reaped by truly purpose-led companies are so great that the question shouldn't be “how difficult is it going to be?”, but rather “how soon can we start?”
Looking for support communicating your business purpose? That’s what we’re here for.
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