How to embed purpose in your organisation

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 - 06:00
How to embed purpose in your organisation

Discovering your new purpose with your employees takes time and effort but can be very invigorating, unifying and rewarding. Let’s consider the example of McDonald’s. Over the years, we have seen a shift in purpose from a standard menu to a range that offers healthy alternatives and the customisable “Create Your Taste” option.

Discovering a new purpose, in many ways, is the easy part. Embedding purpose so that it becomes your organisation’s new way of life is where the real and most difficult work begins. And unfortunately, that is also where the majority of companies fail, primarily as a result of their lack of focused and sustained leadership commitment.

Prepare for a sustained commitment of two years

Whilst embedding purpose is an ongoing journey of transformation that never really ends it is worth adopting an initial time frame of two years in order to successfully infuse purpose into every fibre of your organisation’s being. As purpose is a long-term change program, adopting a time-frame of two years ensures the appropriate focus and effort continues and that people do not expect to gain the benefits overnight.

As you embed purpose into every nook and cranny of your organisation it will impact every aspect of what you do from decision making to marketing; recruitment to team meetings; and branding to name tags. From the large and impactful statement to the small, almost unnoticed symbols, the extent to which you embrace purpose will determine the degree to which it seeps into your culture and way of being.

Ensure the leadership team is 100% committed

If just one or two executives display any doubt about the importance of deeply embedding purpose in the organisation’s culture and DNA, that doubt could jeopardise the whole program. A minor difference in the views or commitment of the executive team will be magnified many times as it cascades down through the organization creating a chasm by the time the message gets to the lower levels. That is why leadership teams need to be 100% united in their commitment when it comes to embedding purpose and executing any similar change programs.

A unified executive team that is focussed on execution is a very powerful force. That unity and focus is essential when it comes to embedding purpose.

Remain resolute despite backlash 

Ideally you will have identified many employees to be strong advocates and passionate campaigners for your purpose. And many employees will be supportive if they have been involved in the discovery process in an inclusive way. But there will be also be some areas of resistance, cynicism and backlash – just like there will be for any other change initiative.

This is when a united and sustained commitment from your leadership team becomes even more important. The way you deal with resistance, cynicism and backlash will be a significant determinant of your future success in the embedding process. If you give in to the resistance it will be very difficult to regain the ground and momentum you lose in the process.

Your decision making will be tested

A critical juncture is reached when a significant decision, long standing principle or business norm is recast to align with purpose. This will be a mission critical test of your leadership team’s commitment and tenacity. If you don’t adapt certain decisions to reflect your purpose it is questionable as to whether you are embedding purpose or simply ticking a trendy corporate box.

Continually linking your plans, decisions and actions to your purpose helps bring it to life and make it real. Repetition and consistency is critically important, particularly as the sceptics will be looking for any chink in your armour that they can find.

Once purpose becomes top of mind for employees and starts to impact the way they think, plan, make decisions and act you will know you are well on the way to embedding purpose and making it your new way of organisational life.

Nicholas Barnett is CEO of Insync, experts in measuring and improving culture, engagement, leadership and performance. He recently co-authored a book with Rodney Howard titled, Why Purpose Matters: and How it Can Transform Your Organisation (Major Street Publishing $34.95).

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