So you have a purpose statement. It’s well-defined, and it makes sense to your people. But can they understand what it means for them? Does your organization’s purpose manifest itself through your leadership decision making, marketing, ESG practices, operations, and every other aspect of your business?
While a clearly defined purpose can be a differentiator, the question that we often hear is, ”where do we go from here?” And therein lies the challenge. When it comes to bridging the gap between defining a purpose and activating it, CEOs aren’t always sure of what to do. In our 2021 CEO Purpose Report, we found that three in five CEOs who have or want a company purpose (60%) admit that they are uncertain about how to enact it. A study by Deloitte showed similar results – it emerged that that among marketing leaders, 76% think their organization has a defined purpose, but only one in ten have a purpose statement that’s backed by a meaningful activation plan.
Why activate a purpose?
Over the last decade, Brandpie has been helping organizations define and activate their purpose. Although it’s something that takes time and consistency to get right, the first 18-months are crucial. And what’s needed is an inside-out approach. There are many ways you can live your purpose – through brand & marketing, innovation, investment decisions, sustainability and more. But if employees don’t feel a sense of change or a connection to the purpose, then it remains an abstract concept with no real meaning. Purpose needs to be activated within the hearts, minds, and experiences of your talent – because they are the driving force of delivering purpose.
A purpose statement on its own isn’t enough. The first phase of activation starts by connecting your purpose to your wider business ambition, followed by your strategy. Not only is this a useful exercise for CEOs by setting a clear direction and expectations in terms of where you’re going, what you want to achieve, and how you’ll get there instils clarity, belief, and confidence among employees.
But they won’t feel anything if you don’t communicate it. A Deloitte survey on Millennials showed that 6 in 10 Millennials stated a ’sense of purpose’ is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer. To feel part of the bigger picture, employees need time to understand how their day-to-day ladders up to the overall direction of the organization.
The duty of leaders
Leaders play a fundamental role in this. When it comes to executing strategy, one of the key challenges organizations face is adequately engaging middle management. They’re a critical resource when it comes to strategy execution, operational business performance and human productivity. And while this may not seem like an earth-shattering insight, all too often these leaders are ill-equipped with the critical capabilities needed to translate purpose and strategy into day-to-day operational decisions and engaging their team members.
CEOs know the quality of their workforce can have a direct impact on the business’s bottom line. In fact, when it comes to driving business growth, attracting and retaining the right talent was one of the most important aspects in our 2021 CEO Purpose Report, with one in five CEOs (21%) ranking it in the top spot (preceded only by company purpose at 24%).
Whenever we support organizations with purpose activation, we spend time creating simple resources that will help leaders digest the purpose and direction of the organization, as well as developing their skills in how they can begin to make it tangible within their function of the business.
For one of our clients, we created a digital engagement tool to help their people understand the organizational purpose and culture, and how to practically apply it in their day-to-day. Using purpose and culture as the lens, we shared stories, developed exercises and thought starters that could be used within major touchpoints such as onboarding, as well as everyday business situations such as team briefs, decision making and giving feedback. This approach helped leaders within the business go beyond remembering and understanding the purpose, to embedding it in decision making, action and outcomes.
Bring out the culture
Which brings us on to another key element of purpose activation: culture. While many organizations might be tempted to begin with focusing on campaigns and customer experience, for your purpose to feel authentic, employees need to experience it first. Engaged leaders will help with this, but another practical action we take at Brandpie is reviewing the employee journey through the lens of purpose.
Our view on purpose-driven transformation is that it’s ongoing and we encourage our clients to adopt the same mindset. We start by focusing on three to four areas where the employee experience feels most misaligned, as well as taking into consideration key business challenges. For example, if our clients are facing challenges linked to talent attraction, we’d start by using key touchpoints and messaging to reinforce the purpose and attract the skills and capabilities needed to deliver on business objectives.
It’s easy to assume that large interventions are needed to do this, but often it’s simple actions that make a big difference. One of the first things we did for one of our pharmaceutical clients was change the language and structure of their annual report. Historically they’d always launched straight into numbers, but a simple switch to starting with scientific breakthroughs perfectly supported their purpose around ‘following the science.’
If your purpose is authentic and reflects what you’re doing in the business today (even only in parts), it’s about searching for those examples and telling the stories to help employees understand what you really mean. Once you’re doing that, you can start to focus on the touchpoints where you don’t live your purpose and begin to address them over time.
Whether organizations are targeting expansion, welcoming a new leadership team, considering a merger or acquisition – a well-defined activation strategy can guide CEOs through these moments and contribute to sustainable growth. It’s a journey that can begin at any time, but it’s a journey that requires a few necessary steps to get right.
Interested in activating your company purpose?
We’ve developed a purpose activation planning process that maps out how you can embed your purpose within the business in your first 18 months.Get in touch