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Putting purpose to work

A few years back, the CEO of a digital healthcare company announced to employees his decision to walk away from a $22M deal, the largest customer contract in the company’s history. The customer’s expanding demands for new functionality didn’t make sense on the company’s product roadmap, he explained.

A year later, he told employees about his decision to terminate a major partner agreement that promised to open a new revenue stream. Based on employee feedback, the CEO said, he concluded the amount of work to fulfill the agreement was jeopardizing existing development plans, customer relationships, and the health and well-being of the team.

Company purpose and values came first, ahead of short term revenue gains. Under the CEO’s leadership the company had established their clear and compelling “why”—their North Star. When customer and partner agreements began to take them off course from their why, he pulled back to keep the company aligned to their original purpose.

His commitment paid off. Employee retention stayed stong, customer satisfaction remained high, and the company grew organically and through acquisition in the next few years, ultimately going public.

It’s one thing to have a purpose and another to put purpose to work, as this CEO did. Putting purpose to work isn’t simply about dusting it off for an annual shareholder’s meeting or Instagram post. It means purpose guides the everyday work and decisions of the entire organization. Putting purpose to work means aligning your team around it, empowering them to walk the talk, and holding them accountable to doing so.

If your organization isn’t there yet, here are some ideas for getting started. It comes down to getting clear, being consistent and intentional, and communicating.

Get clear about your vision – your what, not just your why

Your purpose explains why your organization exists. But what does success look like? Paint your picture and be clear about it. That’s your vision – your what.

TerraCycle’s “why” is to “eliminate the idea of waste.” What’s their vision? A world in which growth is sustainable because we continuously reuse what we produce rather than deeming it trash, dumping it into landfills, and tapping more natural resources to produce the next thing.

Describing your what helps your employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders understand and embrace your why.

Get clear about your values – your how – and live them

Your values and your strategy represent how you’re going to fulfill your purpose and vision. How is your organization going to behave and operate in order to achieve your highest aspirations?

Personalized healthcare company Accolade spells out the beliefs – the core values – that guide them every day as they strive to fulfill their purpose: every person living their healthiest life. Every decision they make, every solution they design, and every partnership they sign is based on their values.

In a similar vein, TerraCycle furnishes and decorates their offices around the world exclusively using materials once destined for the trash.

Be consistent –  so every objective at every level is intentionally designed to reflect your purpose, vision and values

Too often, employees create their objectives in a vacuum, without a clear understanding of how their work ladders up and makes an impact on the highest aspirations of the organization. The result can be a focus on the wrong things, worsening morale and disengagement.

Run a structured objective setting process from the top down. Develop your objectives as leader in the context of your organization’s higher purpose, vision and values, demonstrating how everything fits together. For every objective, define the initiatives and metrics that will move the needle so that everyone understands priorities and where to focus their energy and time.

Cascade your objectives to guide employees at every level in setting their own. Make sure each person’s objectives map to their manager’s to drive consistency and alignment throughout the organization.

Be clear and compelling – communicate through storytelling

Once you’ve established your organization purpose, vision, values and objectives, don’t assume employees understand them. You’ll need to tell them over and over again, using all your communication channels – messaging apps, web pages, email, recruiting content, onboarding materials, corporate slide decks, team meeting content, and social media.

But telling isn’t enough. Show them through stories. Uncover employee successes large and small and showcase their stories. Celebrate customer wins, connecting to your vision, purpose and values. Invest in resources whose job is to discover and share stories that bring your purpose, vision and values to life within and beyond your organization.

Measure, learn and evolve

Get methodical about periodically measuring your progress against your objectives, and factor in time to reflect. Are your objectives the right ones to achieve your larger vision? Are your projects and priorities aligned to your strategy and objectives? Have you allocated the resources necessary to support them? Or maybe your employees achieved everything they set out to do and it’s time to aim higher.

Sparklos exists to drive leader success. We envision a world in which every leader can become the leader they aspire to be, guiding organizations to achieve their highest potential and goals. Need help with your purpose, vision and values? Get in touch!

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