2040’s Ideas and Innovations Newsletter, Issue 37: Shared Purpose
Issue 37: January 6, 2022
When the public discourse becomes contentious and people lose faith in institutions and government, increasingly they look to the organizations where they work or engage with as customers to bestow their trust and connection with a community of shared purpose. All types of stakeholders are pushing for more accountability from organizations and leadership, and yes, even the institutions they have seemingly lost faith in.
In fact, according to BrandCulture, “For too long, the business-as-usual approach to generating revenue and achieving growth has disengaged customers and employees, bred mistrust and damaged reputations by substituting relentless pursuit of profits for vision and frequently foregoing mission entirely.” Many of our government institutions have deflected the public or their constituents’ needs and wants by losing sight of their purpose for existence. Many professional organizations, profit and nonprofit, have become taken to task for not serving stakeholders. Therefore, faith and trust are eroding, a chasm has opened, and individuals are struggling to find connection and meaning to fill the chasm.
As with many other aspects of our current social disruptions, we are becoming more polarized in our belief systems, often framed by subconscious or unconscious bias.
Several weeks ago, we turned our attention to framing and discussing the criticality of market orientation and forming organizations around a shared purpose. Before the holidays, we discussed how to manage expectations and when to recognize the need to respond and take social and societal positions. This week, we dive deeper into defining and discussing shared purpose in the context of organizational alignment and in meeting an organization’s social obligations.
It is a complex topic, yet a critical exercise regardless of one’s perspective and values. Any enlightened attempt to seek change and transformation of an organization’s market orientation should fulfill the needs of society, both internal and external.
Shared purpose spurs a grounded conversation about the macro and micro issues that are important to a diverse, inclusive community by creating a narrative that is relevant, meaningful, and fluid so that it can evolve as the needs of stakeholders change. All organizations are represented as a mesosystem that reflects their organizational strategy, structure, model, and culture. A mesosystem does not exist in isolation. It is surrounded by, influenced and dependent upon the macrosystem (world, region, country, or locality) and the microsystem (comprised of individuals and groups of customers and employees). A shared purpose represents how the organization forms, works together and represents itself with intent and in service to the macro and microsystems surrounding it.
It’s becoming a tough world out there. People in our society, in many ways, are disillusioned and struggling to gain a sense of normalcy and predictability. Who do we trust? Who can we trust? How do we know when to trust? And when to question?
Edelman’s Trust Barometer reports some interesting trends related to the role of organizations in our society:
- The majority (60%) of people globally say their country will not be able to overcome its challenges without the involvement of business.
- Roughly 80% of people, on average, expect their organizations to act on issues such as vaccine hesitancy, climate change, automation, misinformation, and racism.
- 52 percent also believe that CEOs need to motivate their employees to take part in solving societal issues — organizations that do not only drive future purchase intent but also reinforce consumer trust in their brand.
- While 87 percent of global respondents (and more than 75 percent of U.S. respondents) in the Edelman study believe that companies should place equal weight on business and pressing social issues, only about a third think that business, in its current form, is getting the job done.
As a result of these internal and external forces, organizations believe they are being thrust onto center stage to speak and act on social and political issues. As we discussed in “Great Expectations,” it’s important to move beyond personal belief and know when constituents expect an organization to take center stage with a stand on issues. Once management accepts that expectations to take a stand to exist, it becomes a critical factor in successfully recruiting and retaining employees — especially demanding, opinionated next-gens — as well as sustaining and acquiring social-minded customers.
Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose, and inclusion officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers says, “People truly don’t want to show up to their jobs and just get a paycheck anymore, employees, especially younger ones, will even quit if they don’t feel a sense of purpose at work.” An organizational structure that forms around a shared purpose provides stakeholders something to believe in that is larger than themselves. This is also true for customers when they seek a relationship with an organization.
According to Eurasia Group, corporates are losing the culture wars. “The world’s biggest brands are earning record profits. But they’re going to have a more difficult year navigating politics. Consumers and employees, empowered by “cancel culture” and enabled by social media, will put new demands on multinational corporations (MNCs) and the governments that regulate them. Consumers — and employees — have corporate boardrooms on the defensive. Social media is even more powerful and pervasive, and the threat of being “canceled” — in this case, consumers ostracizing or blocking a company from markets — is real. The emergence from the pandemic, even if slow and halting, has given employees leverage: The Great Resignation means companies need to make themselves more attractive to new hires, and it gives those workers
who remain more leverage to change companies from the inside. Meanwhile, consumers will enlist policymakers in their campaigns to demand that companies take stands on “culture war” issues, workplace diversity, voting rights, forced and child labor, supply chains that respect the environment and human rights, free speech, and more.”
Something to Believe In
Shared purpose is shorthand for getting people connected to the mission of an organization. The most effective leaders build a collective sense of shared purpose and connect everyone to the mission and purpose of the larger team. In fact, the teams who think and work together with a sense of shared purpose are the happiest, and the most successful, according to author Mickey Addison. A shared purpose aligned to a market orientation provides a focus for each group and individual in an organization and aids them in understanding how their day-to-day efforts contribute overall. It also helps define their professional selves and offers a way to see and measure their own internal value. As we often get lost in the day-to-day and lose sight of things larger than ourselves, we find the chasms emerge. A lack of real or perceived purpose larger than oneself can lead to negative feelings and grow into depression and anxiety. From a managerial perspective, talent today seeks organizations with a shared purpose that they can align with and derive personal and professional value from.
Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO adds, “An organization’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who it is and why it exists. They have a culture of purpose beyond making a profit. An organization’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who we are and why we exist through a set of carefully articulated core beliefs. A culture of purpose guides behavior, influences strategy, transcends leaders–and endures.”
BrandCulture says organizations define shared purpose in different ways. “Some claim ownership of a mission, others describe their vision or covenant, while others articulate a purpose or vision statement.” In a real-life example, “Southwest seeks to deliver its own mission by ensuring every employee understands how his or her effort contributes to the mission of delivering an exceptional travel experience, even if it means pilots bringing strollers down to baggage handlers on the tarmac so a flight leaves on time. Southwest makes sure they reward their employees who deliver on this mission by backing them with financial reserves.” The anecdotal results of shared purpose are self-evident, “The airline has never had a layoff and can trace its one and only labor strike to a six-day action in 1980.”
Purpose Driven Business Model
“It’s not the if, it’s the how,” says Jackie Cooper, global vice chair of Edelman Brand Properties. “Purpose needs to become a core competency for leading organizations. Organizations need to build social equity into their ‘brands.’ from product innovation and employee engagement to marketing communications.” An organization’s purpose or mission statement was originally about “what’s within our four walls, but more and more it’s about what’s outside of our four walls,” says Schuyler. In this regard, reflect on market orientation and how organizations must be based on a foundation of shared knowledge that is reflective of the micro and macro systems.
It’s not an easy journey to create an authentically shared purpose construct. Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing, and public relations officer at Ally Financial warns: “While the potential of brand purpose is game-changing, it’s also a minefield if you get it wrong.” Think about it: Establishing shared purpose permeating throughout an organization is a huge challenge. It needs to be systematic and holistic and does not have an end date, nor can it be automated by software. “It can’t be delegated to a few interested individuals or be designed to impact one specific part of an organization or a specific audience. Acting on an authentic and well-aligned purpose is an all-in proposition, from the CEO on down, and it must be deeply embedded into the culture and core to the entire business operation and experience,” according to Ken Beaulieu, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the ANA.
Having the vision to create a shared purpose organization and seeing it to fruition is often prevented by a lack of C-suite involvement and failing to make purpose a business strategy. There is often the temptation to mistake corporate values for purpose. And purpose needs KPIs to measure success. But getting it right has consequential ramifications. A study by the global communications agency Porter Novelli found that when a brand leads with purpose, “It changes the entire perception of the company with stakeholders. Not only are they more trusting of, and loyal to a brand, they also often associate it with words like caring, charitable, ethical, responsible, and transparent. That emotional connection runs deep: 78 percent of consumers are more likely to remember an organization with a strong purpose and 71 percent would purchase from a purpose-driven organization over the alternative when cost and quality are equal.”
The Chief Purpose Officer
Managing and actualizing a culture of shared purpose is shifting to the role of the Chief Purpose Officer. If this might sound New Age, consider the changes in job titles brought about by the seismic changes in our business culture; chief social media officer comes to mind. The Chief Purpose Officer recognizes that the importance of purpose is key to motivation and an effective way to embed purpose in the DNA of businesses, according to Kate Cooper. The Chief Purpose Officer should perform the role of facilitator recognizing that each individual in an organization has a shared responsibility to support the shared purpose. We often seek to align responsibility to one enthusiastic individual or group. As a result, organizations have added Chief Customer Officers, Chief Strategy Officers, and Chief of Pretty Much Everything de Jour of responsibility. The aim, whether consciously recognized or not, is to build out a hierarchical structure with a single focal point that is held accountable for execution and performance. An unintended consequence of hierarchical actions is that the individual or group is regarded as the sole owners who are responsible.
Straddling the line between public accountability, people and profits, some organizations have had to change their market orientation strategies by spending more time and money grappling with huge social problems like systemic racism, income inequality and climate change. A Chief Purpose Officer can facilitate these efforts and become the glue that holds shared purpose initiatives together. The Officer is a resource, not an owner or a “throat to choke.” As the purpose is a team sport; it needs teams embedded in all parts of the organization to advocate, align, contribute, and ensure the mission.
Here’s a case study that illustrates how purpose can become imbued into an organizational construct. Kwasi Mitchell serves as the Chief Purpose Officer of Deloitte and is responsible for driving a firm-wide strategy around Deloitte’s commitments to include diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability and climate change, and education and workforce development. According to Deloitte, he is also responsible for engaging the Deloitte community to live their purpose daily, supporting clients on their purpose journey, forming alliances with key partners to co-create solutions to address systemic societal issues, and driving internal policy and process changes to achieve purpose aspirations. Mitchell says his position is “to guide, inspire and drive progress and accountability in our continued journey to empower our people to lead with their passions and help position Deloitte as a purpose-driven enterprise.
“My key focus areas are twofold. First and foremost, I want to enable our 110,000+ professionals to engage in purpose-driven work that’s meaningful to them. That goes beyond volunteering — it’s harnessing our people’s skills to help solve some of the world’s most complex challenges for the benefit of society.
“Second, my key focus is impact. The marketplace increasingly sees corporate social responsibility as table stakes — we’re going far beyond that. How do we make sure we have the size, scale, and breadth of our brand to drive progress against societal issues taking place more broadly within the world? How do we direct our resources, so they have maximum impact on our communities? Through the Purpose Office, we can better funnel our resources and investments to really change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. A large part of that will be working with our clients, alliances and even competitors to collectively bring our capabilities together to help solve institutional challenges beyond the capabilities of a singular organization.”
Leading With Shared Purpose
A study by the strategic brand consultancy BrandPie found that while 80 percent of purpose-led CEOs agree that business leaders need to be more focused on long-term value creation rather than short-term profit delivery, only 28 percent are integrating purpose into their decision-making and strategy. In the B2B space, 86 percent of organizations say they embrace purpose as important to growth, but only 24 percent say they embed purpose in their business to the point of influencing innovation, operations, and their engagement with society, according to a study by the ANA, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, and the Harris Poll.
It is a human default to turn to leaders for direction and guidance. Following a leader provides stability, comfort and can inspire a collective mission to accomplish a goal. Following a leader with a shared purpose elevates the dynamic on steroids. “When leaders keep the welfare and engagement of their teams in the forefront of their decisions, they enable those teams to connect to the mission of the organization. That connection leads to a sense of mission and shared purpose–both keys to high performance,” according to Addison. From a historical perspective, he explains that in contrast to the Industrial Age, “Information Age leaders have to pay attention to the needs of individuals. Those leaders who do will be giving the individuals in their teams a sense of shared purpose. During the Industrial Revolution, management specialists de-emphasized the needs and variations of individuals to standardize the product. While standardization and mass-production enabled large scale availability of consumer goods, it often produced sub-optimal results in employee morale and even safety.”
Organizational leaders can inspire and connect their employees to something larger than a paycheck, he adds. If leaders do that, they can inspire their teams and connect them to the larger mission and the community they serve. In return, their teams will strive and reach high performance.
One drawback to blindly “following the leader “as basic default behavior, individuals within the organization do not internalize their personal responsibility to contribute to the shared purpose. Leaders need to ensure that their leadership style is not hierarchical, but rather collaborative and embracive in actualizing shared purpose.
Building a Cultural Construct of Shared Purpose
Shared knowledge is key to keeping all stakeholders on the same page to live and operate a shared purpose. Shared purpose is not a trendy marketing initiative. It needs to be authentically and relevantly embedded into the workplace ethos and culture. And it needs to be carefully and mindfully articulated.
BrandCulture recommends the first few steps by answering the following questions:
- What credible, differentiated value do you provide your customers, constituents, and stakeholders?
- Why does your organization exist?
- Who is your organization in service to?
- How do you or will you serve and impact the world?
- What does your organization stand for and can you work together?
- Is your organization aligned to multiple “purposes” or does it have one shared purpose that brings the organization together into something bigger than its parts?
Answering these questions can help you and your organization takes the first steps in defining and aligning to an organizational-wide shared purpose. As we noted, implementation, embellishment and building a shared purpose is not a once-and-done exercise. It requires every individual in an organization to take responsibility and understand how he and she contribute to the shared purpose.
Shared Purpose Matters
At 2040 we work with clients to help them use critical thinking to examine and identify their true purpose. This is not an existential exercise; it is a fundamental tenet of conducting business in today’s highly charged marketplace arena. We can help you work through the process, mobilize your teams to get behind the mission and make it actionable. Life is complicated in 2022 with public and worker demand for such a high level of transparency. We can help you mitigate risk and move forward with confidence that your shared purpose construct is authentic, relevant, and sustainable.