How do you ensure your business leaders understand the importance of purpose?

Caroline Russell
By Caroline Russell
Employee Communication Specialist

There is a huge amount of evidence and research that proves the importance of purpose in business. Having a business purpose is essential to ensure your business doesn’t just survive, but thrives.

However, purpose can’t just be a slogan on the wall. Ensuring that your leadership team is on board with, supports and lives your purpose is critical to it landing with, and being embraced, by employees. However, convincing a sceptical leadership team to invest emotionally and commercially in your business purpose can be challenging

In our ‘Connecting Your People To Your Company Purpose’ webinar in September 2020, Ali Fox-Robinson, Head of Colleague & Community Engagement at Pfizer, said:

“Four or five years ago when we first started discussing the idea of purpose, before Pfizer global had articulated what we stood for and why, it just wasn’t landing everywhere.” 

“Some leaders instinctively understood the importance of purpose, whereas others were concerned it felt too ‘soft and fluffy’. It was definitely still, at that point, a discussion topic, rather than an actionable mandate.” 

“But over time, we’ve got better and more confident about talking about it, and with the prevalence of business purpose in the press in recent years, having a purpose has become almost normalised and everyone at Pfizer is proud of the journey we’ve come on and how we live and breathe ours.”  

As was the case at Pfizer, it may be that your business already has a purpose that just hasn’t been articulated effectively yet.

Clearly articulating your purpose in a way that’s tangible and actionable is the first step in empowering your business leaders to understand its importance. 

There are four key steps to ensure your purpose is embraced, celebrated and driven forward by your leadership team:

  1. Identify and appoint a senior change agent
  2. Empower your change agents
  3. Create a framework and normalise purpose within your business
  4. Give leaders the tools to make the difference

Identify and appoint a senior change agent

Having just one senior, influential change agent of your business purpose can have a huge impact on energising and inspiring others. At Pfizer, this was Ben Osborn, their UK Country Manager. Ali told us:

“One of the things that really helped was having Ben so invested in having a business purpose. Ben’s personal belief in our purpose made it a lot easier for us to prioritise and implement all the ideas and programmes we had wanted to roll out for a while.”

“Once you have one person living your company purpose, it’s amazing how everybody else starts to believe it and feel it – and the culture shift really picks up the pace. Now all our leaders are really behind it and finding their voice and their way to live it authentically themselves as well.”

Having even one inspirational, influential senior figure leading from the front gives other leaders the confidence to embody your business purpose in their own way.  

To share a famous quote by Nelson Mandela: “As we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same”

Empower your change agents

In every organisation, there will be a pool of “change agents” who can lead the cultural charge to inspire and motivate others to live and breathe company purpose. These are the people who will take your renewed purpose and weave it into the practical and physical aspects of everyday business. From how you recruit new team members, to how you deal with suppliers and customers to how you manage and cultivate your talent, your “change agents” are going to be the people ‘on the ground’ inspiring and leading others to live your purpose.

The leadership team are the obvious “change agents”, but also consider who else could be considered and consulted to support the start of your business’ change. Do you have cultural leaders in the business who aren’t necessarily on the leadership team? Managers that individuals gravitate to for help? Do you have any natural influencers within the workforce that would be supportive of what you are doing? Consider who would support this change from every angle to form a diverse and influential group to lead the shift towards purpose. 

Company president of DTE Energy, Gerry Anderson, articulated DTE’s purpose in 2008: “We serve with our energy, the lifeblood of communities and the engine of progress”. After being inspired by a video produced by Anderson bringing this purpose to life, DTE’s leaders were empowered to embrace their purpose in the way that was most authentic to them. Fully bought into what the business stood for, the leadership team dedicated themselves to supporting the purpose and wove it into onboarding and training programs, corporate meetings and culture-building activities such as film festivals and sing-alongs.

Change was gradual, but as DTE’s people judged the business purpose to be authentic, the transformation started to take place.

One of the most important aspects of driving change with the support of a leadership team is to empower them to live your purpose in the way that feels natural to them and only by empowering your “change agents” to translate your business purpose into action that feels authentic to them, can you encourage and embed sustained and genuine transformation. 

Create a framework and normalise purpose within your business

Making purpose tangible and part of your leadership team’s everyday working life ensures your business purpose is lived authentically by employees. But as well as giving employees practical frameworks, inspiring them to attach their own filter to how they do business will empower them to align themselves and their work more closely to your business purpose and ‘walk the walk’ rather than just ‘talk the talk’.

Ali Fox-Robinson from Pfizer told us: 

“We did a lot of work around personal energy management; the theory being that key to becoming a well rounded human being is the need to identify and focus on your mental, physical, spiritual and your emotional well being.”

“As we rolled this concept out to everyone, we discussed topics, business-wide, around mental wellbeing, such as: Have I had enough sleep? Am I drinking enough water? And spiritual topics, such as: Why do I come to work in the morning? Why am I here?“

“Because we were explicitly including the mental and spiritual aspects of our lives with the more traditional physical aspects, it legitimised all conversations we were having around ‘purpose’ and cemented the idea that having purpose was simply a part of being a good human and therefore, should be part of everyday life.”  

Normalising having a purpose gives employees the confidence to overtly live your business purpose and generates pride and normalcy around changing their behaviours.  

Give leaders the tools to make the difference

Truly embedding purpose within your organisation requires a series of physical changes in how you do business, not just philosophical. This means changes to processes, systems and previously well used formats.  

During this transformational stage, it’s important to ensure that leaders don’t just understand the importance of embedding purpose in the organisation, but they have the tools they need to practically drive purpose-led evolution in the business.

Work through all aspects of how you do business:

  • internal - HR, operations, production, sales and;
  • external - supplier management, customer service, marketing

Identify which areas need developing to fully align with your business purpose, and what needs to change. Then work with the leaders in each of these areas to drive the operational and cultural changes needed.

This may even mean ditching product lines. US pharmacy chain CVS Health, famously stopped selling tobacco products in 2014 because they didn’t align with its purpose to “help people on their path to better health,” forgoing $2 billion in annual revenue. Whatever structural changes the business needs to fully align to your purpose, be brave enough to take it. Then, support and empower your leaders to drive the change with confidence and integrity.   

Ensuring your business’s leadership team and other “change agents” understand the importance of purpose will lead to an aligned, motivated and inspiring place to work. The road to business nirvana is not always an easy one, but by working closely with your purpose cheerleaders, empowering leaders to find their personal authenticity within the business purpose, normalising and creating a framework that purpose sits comfortably within, and equipping leaders with the tools to undertake necessary practical changes you can deliver total business transformation into a purpose-led business. 

 

 

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