In the first article in this series on purpose, we looked at the nature of purpose and espoused the view that purpose has two facets: functional (where it describes what the company must get done); and intentional (where it articulates what the company would like to see change in the wider world.) In this article, we look at how purpose and its impacts might be quantified and the benefits that a measurement system might bring.
A culture with purpose doesn’t set and forget all the hard work that got it there in the first place. On the contrary, it continues to build and report on what it has established. Without that impetus, purpose quickly gives way to task and the commitment to deliver change is overtaken by the motivation to just make budget. If you need to convince others in your organisation that the momentum and energy required to stay the course is indeed worth it, consider these observations from Deloitte’s Culture of Purpose 2013 Report.
Language is one of the most important definers of any organisational culture. The language you choose, the language you don’t choose and the language you choose to replace are a reflection, and in some senses, a definition of your priorities. As the American writer Rita Mae Brown once observed, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”
At some point, a culture that is serious about what it intends must put those intentions in writing. That’s about a lot more than documentation. Declaring what you come to work for collectively amounts to a commitment. So many companies squander this opportunity in my view. They market what is happening rather than explaining it. They expand on what it means for the company rather than how it benefits the individual. They paint a process and not a picture.
It continues to fascinate me how little some businesses still seem to understand their human factors as opposed to their people model. They know how their workforce is organised. They understand where they’re allocated. They know what they cost. They have processes for everything they do. But they still seem to lack the anthropological understanding of how they actually can and need to get on and interact.
There’s a temptation to believe that the sheer logic of a good decision will sway the crowd; that if you make a good case and present it in an inspiring way, you’ve done everything you need to for that idea to gain instant uptake in an organisational culture. I’ve yet to see that happen successfully. I’ve seen it tried often – “now take that idea and apply it to what you do” – but never in ways that live up to expectations.
Marketers face this dilemma every day. They must push some boundaries past the point of pain in order to get the jump and be competitive. At the same time, they must clearly stay within constraints such as ethics and regulatory requirements in order to retain integrity, reputation and a clean record.
Having clearly outlined why change is needed and the opportunity that change could generate, too many culture change programmes then leave people to make the changes themselves without very much more explanation. So often, staff are handed new values and a new purpose, there’s some motivational meetings and perhaps a video and gift, and then the business just expects them to get on with it. The thinking seems to be that this gives people personal empowerment; that it brings the change alive for them.
Here’s some great insights for anyone involved in making change programmes or new ideas work. The key to successfully transforming organisations doesn’t lie in explaining what’s required. It actually lies in better understanding what people feel threatened by. In this article in Reuters from some time back, David Rock takes the view that “People are not rational, they are social”. According to him, what we’re told is not the fundamental driver for acceptance. The key issue is that we are intuitively programmed to respond positively to social rewards, and are instinctually committed to minimising social threats. Perceived threats to our senses of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (a model Rock refers to as SCARF) will cause us to act defensively towards an event or an idea. Such threats cause people to close off the energy being passed through the prefrontal cortex, the home of conscious thinking in the bank. Change might make sense. It may even be responsible. But when information about change is conveyed to us in this manner, people react emotionally, productivity …
Comes a point in the lifecycle of most brands when they hit critical complacency. The marque has mainstreamed to the point where it effectively blends with its surroundings to form part of the amorphous middle. That’s the black hole towards which all brands are drawn. Competitiveness erodes. Prices start to fall. Comfort levels and intransigence soar. Appetites for risk, so apparent in the early years, fall away. Eventually, the lights go out. We could all run a list of those that have succumbed. But whilst complacency and conservatism are easily spotted, they are much more reluctantly abandoned. Getting off the merry-go-round is difficult, because it requires management to re-radicalise; to muster the courage and the energy to pick new fights and wage new wars; to attack what they operate so efficiently and effectively now in order to save it. (Seth Godin in his book The Icarus Deception expresses clearly and strongly how and why industrialisation works this way.) It’s hard to be radical and commercial: hard because it so often looks unreasonable. As Gary Hamel …