A response to build on the Forbes article “Three best practices for embedding Purpose and Values into Culture” by Kathy Miller Perkins
For many of the teams we work with merely (an yes it is hardly a small thing) articulating a purpose statement for their organisation is but the first step. In too many cases it is the only step. Let’s face it. Most people, in most organisations at are not looking for transformative change. In fact the mere thought of the breadth and depth of such a change causes them to shut down. So they seek business as usual. It’s known. A system where success is understood.
Perkins article breaks down three tangible actions for embedding purpose. Each of which can be used to create tangible plans. Lets examine how to build those plans and the key action overlooked in this article.

Action 1: Make your purpose and values your north star.

We call this signalling. What opportunities are there to build consideration of your purpose into your everyday decisions. The signal will depend on the level of maturity of the organisation. Here are some examples from our clients across a spectrum of maturity:

  • Putting the statement on the top of all strategy frameworks

  • Have a check in the budget approval process for alignment to purpose

  • Have a check in the capital approval process for alignment to purpose

  • Partnership / New market generation of shared value (where environmental and /or social value is delivered using a profit making business model)

  • Alignment of government / social values in operating geographies

  • Investor reporting

  • Employee performance and remuneration structure and timeframes

A plan can be built for each of these. A review conducted at regular intervals to continually refresh the signals.

Question: What signals could be implemented to remind your people of the north star you’re all working towards?

Action 2: Eliminate practices that do not align clearly with your stated commitments.

For me this is a subset of signalling. The creation of new practices should by its very nature supersede or eliminate existing practice. The value of calling this out independently is in reinforcing the shift for those exposed to the changes.
Question: What signals could be eliminated to remind your people of the north star you’re all working towards?

Action 3: Pursue a new and inspiring goal related to your purpose and principles.

We call this ‘signposting‘. There are two key design criteria for the signpost:

  1. The goal has to be new. Or it is difficult for people to associate it with a shift.
  2. It should impact the whole business
As for the signals in Action 1&2, signposts vary with the maturity of the organisation. Some signposts I have observed recently from large organisations are:

  • Emissions reduction targets
  • Inclusion and diversity targets
  • Circular supply chain
  • Active product divestment away from industrial revolution commodities toward ‘future commodities’
  • Redistribution of wealth within supply chains
  • Meeting frequency, intention and structure
  • Language use to refer to employees at all levels (examples include colleagues, associates, contributors)
All of these signposts take courageous leadership because they have the potential to challenge the knowledge, power and wealth distributions of today. Leaders know that these signpost present significant opportunities in new markets, products, processes or services. And yet in many cases the path to realise these opportunities is far from obvious.
This is where the fourth action is critical.
Question: What signpost would be new to your organisation and impact the majority of your business?

Action 4: Provide your leaders the skills you need them to have to transition your business.

The types of change we have discussed are no small investment for a business. Leaders are asking their people to work towards something that does not have a clearly defined roadmap. Purpose is strategic.

However those who do most of the work implementing the three actions above are those leaders 2-3 layers down the organisation from the CEO. These individuals  are rarely asked to be strategic in their everyday. One of our clients recently stated ‘we have saved our business more than once because we are exceptional at executing in a command and control manner’. Great if you are fighting a fire, or addressing a global pandemic. Not so great if your trying to engage the hearts of your employees and customers.

You must build the muscle of these leaders in ‘Asking’. This muscle must be used in both the facilitation of conversations and in the design of initiatives, in particular the design of the signpost from action #3 above.

Asking requires us as individuals to have courage, to display vulnerability and to be prepared to be surprised by the answers. It is why so much of our work is founded on coaching principles; building the capacity of the individual.

Question: What skills and support might your leaders need to set them up as successful in engaging and executing a plan which is emerging?

Forbes; Three best Practices for Embedding Purpose and Values into Culture; Kathy Miller Perkins

Read; 10 mins

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