This article is the 4th installment in a series on Purpose for Business. You can start here, but if this is your first visit, you may want to read about:
The Purpose-Led Company
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what Purpose is in business and why you should care – but what does it look like when a company is Purpose-Led? We’ve said that it’s not enough to pick a purpose and values and dedicate a wall in the office to them – you have to put your money where your mouth is by implementing and living your business Purpose. Here are some examples of ways that Purpose-Led companies implement their Purpose to drive results in their everyday operations.
1. Hiring & Firing by Purpose & Values
It makes logical sense that your company will want to share your Purpose, values, and behaviors with your employees, but you need to take it several steps further and make it actionable. Purpose-led companies will utilize their Purpose, values, and behaviors to develop their HR and recruiting policies. When people understand who you are as a company and what the expectations are for employees within it, they can make informed decisions about their participation. This means explaining your Purpose and values in interviews. Ask questions that help interviewers understand whether or not the interviewee is a good cultural fit. It also means clearly setting value and behavior expectations in HR policies. Identify in reviews where employees are meeting – or failing to meet – these expectations.
For example, Zappos realized that not everyone functions well within their corporate culture and loose holacratic structure. To ensure they were hiring the right people, they implemented a trial employment and training period. Every new employee goes through this training, and at the end they have the option to take a cash buyout if they choose not to stay with Zappos. This is an excellent example of putting your money where your mouth is. Zappos recognizes the importance of the people they hire understanding and agreeing to the way they do business. They would rather pay people NOT to work for them if they feel they won’t thrive in the Zappos environment. Not everyone is the right fit for your company, but you won’t know it unless you tell them who you are.
2. Developing Behaviors That Define & Support Values
When we talk about values, we often mention behaviors. Behaviors help to define values within your organization. Because language is flexible and evolving, words don’t always mean the same thing to everyone. This is where behaviors come in to help more clearly define the expectations of a certain value.
If your company says that one of its values is “happiness,” that could mean different things to different people. One person may interpret it as feeling like they can never talk about a bad day. Another might decide this means that they don’t have to work on Fridays because having Fridays off makes them happy. But if you say that the behaviors that support the value of ‘happiness’ are a) we work hard and play hard; b) we support each other; and c) we are welcoming and open; then these behaviors create a clearer understanding of “happiness.” Establishing these behaviors requires training for managers and employees so that everyone understands expectations and requirements. Employees want to meet expectations. Properly communicating expected behaviors and company values makes it easier for them to do so.
3. Walking the Walk: Modeling Company Purpose & Values
Child psychologists tell parents to model the behavior they want to see in their kids. We take cues on the importance of certain behaviors, based on what our elders and superiors do. Your employees, vendors, and anyone else who interacts with your company will only understand the importance of your Purpose, values, and behaviors based on the way you, as an organization, value them. You place an emphasis on what is important in the ways that you establish policies, treat vendors and employees, and develop processes. They will expect you to embody the values before they will believe in them.
For example, if you claim to value collaboration, but you fail to establish physical locations within the office that encourage collaboration, you are communicating that collaboration is not actually important. Or if you reprimand employees for exceeding project hours because of meetings with too many staff members, you may be communicating that profitability is the most important thing, even at the cost of collaboration. If the required behaviors aren’t valued by the company, they won’t be valued by employees.
4. Talking the Talk: Discussing Purpose & Values
In addition to modeling the values and behaviors that we want, Purpose, values, and behaviors have to be a consistent topic of conversation. Understanding the importance your company places on Purpose & values comes with repetition. When appropriate, it is important to continue to discuss company values and Purpose, both in small settings like employee reviews and executive meetings, and in large settings like departmental and all-office meetings or town halls. This can be accomplished in ways that will feel natural, like explaining why important decisions were made and how they align with the company’s Purpose. Your Purpose should be present in all corporate communications – internal newsletters, employee advancement announcements, and HR initiatives. Your Purpose and values should even be evident outside your organization. If you don’t talk about them explicitly in external communications, they should at least be modeled in the ways you interact with customers, employees, and the community.
5. Creating Employee Merit & Rewards Systems Around Purpose, Values, & Behaviors
Yet another way to show the importance of Purpose, values, and behaviors is to create merit and reward systems based around your Purpose, values, and/or behaviors. This is also a great opportunity to remind your employees (who will bring their own baggage from previous jobs) that you really mean what you say. There are as many ways to do this as there are companies, but incorporating your values into your merit systems is important. Merit systems can be on a departmental level, an individual level, or a corporate level – or any combination, depending on the values and goals of the organization. They can exist between employees themselves (small ways for employees to thank each other for embodying values), and they should exist from leadership down.
But before you begin developing and rolling out programs, make sure you understand what appreciation looks like to your employees. Obviously, there will likely never be 100% agreement on this with your employees, but if your company already offers a free meal once a week or during every shift, restaurant gift cards may not be very appealing. Or you may be throwing a huge holiday party every year, thinking that it’s a way to thank your employees without knowing that it’s actually a huge burden for them to find a babysitter and attend yet another party during an already busy time of year.
Finally, don’t forget to say “thank you” to your employees. Gratitude is important to give and receive. Remember that everyone wants to know that their hard work is recognized and appreciated. While your employees likely have to work somewhere, it doesn’t have to be for YOU.
6. Work With Other Businesses That Are Aligned With Your Values
When you are establishing connections with other organizations, just like with the other major decisions made for your business, you should ensure that the connections align with your Purpose. Does this mean that these organizations have to have the exact same values or virtually the same Purpose as you? Of course not. But there should be an obvious “of course” moment because your connection makes sense. Whether it’s a connection with a nonprofit or the community for a CSR initiative, co-branding or collaborating with another business for a product release, or even establishing a relationship with a vendor, it should be done thoughtfully and with an eye on your Purpose.
For example, many people see the decision to sell Whole Foods to Amazon as incongruous. Whole Foods, whose Purpose is to nourish people and the planet, is an odd investment for Amazon, who values their ‘Day 1’ mentality of doing everything with the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of a new organization. While it may make sense on paper or from a monetary standpoint, there are many Whole Foods customers who may ultimately choose not to shop there any longer, as they don’t agree with Amazon’s values.
7. Interacting With Vendors in Ways That Support Your Values
Vendor relationships are very important for both parties, and vendors should be treated with respect. As a Purpose-Led company, the way that you interact with vendors should serve to uphold your Purpose and values. Again, this seems logical during day-to-day operations when everything is running smoothly.
But what do you do when a big client is late paying you? If your vendor calls with bad news? If there is a short for your order or a production delay? The answers aren’t easy, and are likely different for each organization, but it is important to use your Purpose as a guide. Vendors employ people in the greater community, and the decisions your organization makes impacts those people. It is just as important to keep your Purpose in mind for ALL of the stakeholders in your organization as it is for those that you see in the office every day.
8. Making High-Level Decisions Based on Purpose
In a Purpose-Led organization, the Board of Directors, CEO, and executive team must all funnel business-level decisions through the company Purpose. A perfect example of this not working properly is Volkswagen releasing a luxury SUV. VW is not known for luxury vehicles. On the contrary, the name translates to “people’s car.” These were vehicles that were built to be inexpensive and reliable at a time when even owning a car was a luxury.
To this day, people do not associate Volkswagen with luxury cars. But VW’s parent company owns many luxury car companies, including Audi, Bently, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Porsche. So it is still a mystery as to why leadership at Volkswagen decided to release a luxury SUV, the Touareg, to a market that did not associate them with luxury. They could have instead released it under one of their brands already known for luxury. Needless to say, the vehicle never sold well and was discontinued after 2017 in the U.S.
9. Understanding That People Are Human
People will make mistakes. They will make decisions that don’t align with company values. Many will need time to adjust to and understand the company’s Purpose. They will push back against change. In Purpose-Led organizations, leadership understands this and asks, “How will we support them?” How can you, as an organization, model your values when your employees make mistakes or have issues in their personal lives that need to be addressed? One way I have seen this play out is in organizations that have “Innovation” as one of their values.
Innovation is a tough one, because you cannot achieve true innovation without failure. Which means that an organization has to be completely comfortable with failure. They celebrate when their employees take risks – and fail. No innovation comes without risk, and risk invites the opportunity to fail. Do you reprimand your employees when they fail? Do they get fired? Then you are not a company that values innovation. How will your company embody its values when your human employees have human moments?
Purpose-Led organizations use their Purpose and values to encourage the best from their employees, and to help them to grow into leaders.
10. Leaders Working for the People (Not the Other Way Around)
In a Purpose-led organization, leaders understand that they work for their employees, and not the other way around. They actively look for ways to support their workforce. They understand that they cannot accomplish their organizational goals without them. Purpose-led leaders value the time their employees devote to the organization. They know that those same employees that are currently helping their organization survive could go work for another business. They also recognize that if they empower their employees, their organization will thrive. Purpose-Led organizations use their Purpose and values to encourage the best from their employees, and to help them to grow into leaders.
A final note – Purpose is about the company, not the employees. Not every employee will come on board and sign up to get the tattoo – and that’s OK. But employees who understand their expectations and the company they work for will perform better and feel more secure. Happy, fulfilled employees are better for everyone – their friends, their families, AND your company. Vendors who see their partner fully embody company values will hold that partner in higher regard. Consumers who recognize a company’s efforts to uphold their values in the market will offer their loyalty.
Not all company Purposes are crunchy or touchy-feely, and they shouldn’t all be. Your company’s Purpose, values, and behaviors should accurately reflect who your company IS. If you are honest about who you are, you will attract stakeholders who will support your Purpose. Furthermore, you will know that the people and businesses that surround you can help to achieve your expectations.
Are you ready to discover and implement your business Purpose?