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How To Create a Why: Building a Purpose Driven Culture.

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

In last month’s blog, we reviewed the benefits of establishing meaning and purpose within an organization. Connecting employees to the company’s purpose, beyond revenue and profitability, will actually help drive those and other quantifiable business success measures.

Take the example of WD-40, led by CEO Garry Ridge. The company has gone to great lengths to focus on creating a “tribe” where employees strive to build a highly collaborative culture, with a shared vision and shared goals. A culture where everyone has a meaningful career. At the centre of the culture is their purpose: To create positive lasting memories in everything we do. Their product (oil) is not unique, but their culture is. Employees work hard because of the purpose, not because of the product. This in turn ensures that the company thrives and that their brand is set apart for potential recruits and customers.

People want and need purpose—both in life and at work. Viktor Frankl has famously studied this topic. As a holocaust survivor, Frankl has a theory that through this meaning and purpose, humans can endure hardship and suffering. If we translate that to the business world, we can conclude that employees who are connected to a higher meaning and purpose are more likely to withstand and fight through turbulence within an organization.

Resilience is a concept that is being discussed a lot in recent months. The impacts of the global pandemic have been significant. The pandemic has forced some companies to reduce headcount and salaries, on the other side, some businesses are booming but employees are working longer and harder than ever. Regardless of the scenario, one thing is certain, businesses and employees have had to adapt.

Those organizations that have a strong sense of purpose will most certainly come out ahead.

How can I create purpose within my company?

Every employer has an opportunity to create purpose for their teams. Ultimately, it’s about establishing deeper meaning to a desired outcome. For example, if you are building cars, you are providing people with freedom; if you are a financial planner, you are providing peace of mind; if you are a recruiter at an agency, you are changing lives.

What does your company do, who do you serve and what impact do you have when you do it well? The answers to those questions will bring you closer to your company’s purpose. And once you have it, here are a few ideas to bring it to life within your organization:

1. Involve employees to help articulate your purpose statement – it’s important that employees can easily connect and identify with the organization’s purpose. Involve your teams in the exercise of defining it. Find out what’s important to them about why they do the work they do. How do they feel when they can make that kind of impact? A clearly defined purpose statement will help with building a strong brand for both customers and employees, and it provides a clear direction by which leaders can lead their team.

2. Align the hiring and on-boarding process – A conventional job description includes an outline of job duties along with desired skills and competencies. Try creating a purpose driven description that clearly communicates how the job duties link with the organization’s purpose. The on-boarding process should also be aligned. This could be as simple as sharing success stories and real examples about how the organization lives this sense of purpose with each other and with customers.

3. Connect purpose to career growth – Employees who are invested in the purpose of a company will remain committed to the company for a longer time. That alone, however, may not entice someone to stay in a role that they have outgrown. People managers can help promote both career and personal growth opportunities through focused discussions and genuine care. Bonus points if you can do that while connecting their growth to purpose. How? One example would be to provide established employees with a chance to mentor junior team members during the on-boarding process to help integrate newbies into the culture and reinforce the values and purpose. You could also allow them to participate in volunteer days to help with a connected cause.

4. Appreciate when it’s done well – Recognition, either monetary or non-monetary, for the achievement of goals is common. What’s less common are recognition programs designed to celebrate and encourage the behaviours and actions that reflect the organization’s purpose. Get creative – implement a peer-to-peer recognition program, ask customers how your employees have made a difference, or establish a “Living our Purpose” video contest. However you choose to do it, recognizing these behaviours will reinforce that they matter.

5. Create opportunities for transparent two-way communication – Finally, and possibly the most important factor to building a purpose driven culture is open and transparent two-way communication. Leaders must clearly and consistently communicate the organization’s purpose across all the levels of the company. Similarly, employees should be encouraged to share their suggestions, questions or feedback on what purpose means to them along with what resources they need to help make their work more meaningful.

And how do I know if we’re doing it well?

The simple answer? Just ask.

You can do this informally or you may want to use a more formal measurement tool like the Great Place to Work® Trust Index© survey. This survey provides key statements to quantify how connected employees are to your company’s purpose and whether or not is resonates.

As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, would say “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. If it’s important enough to invest in, it’s important enough to make sure that investment has been done well.


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