It's hard to imagine condensing this kind of sweeping change into eight steps within a blog post. Thanks to an article published in the July-August 2018 edition of the Harvard Business Review, most of the heavy lifting has already been done.
Aside from the eight, clearly defined steps to Create a Purpose-Driven Organization, this article makes two important points.
• The success USAA gained through this type of training (a drastic change initiative) was ‘no small investment.’ “Its lessons were continually reinforced through town hall meetings and other forums where people at all levels asked questions and shared ideas about how to fulfill their purpose.”
• Committing to this level of organizational growth and development is transformative. “People who find meaning in their work don’t hoard their energy and dedication. They give them freely, defying conventional economic assumptions about self-interest… By tapping into that power, you can transform an entire organization.”
Acknowledging and understanding the cost and potential impact of comprehensive strategic messaging and alignment allows us to create realistic strategies and objectives. Without further ado, your 8 steps:
The HBR article comes to a simple conclusion for this step. “If you can find one positive example—a person, a team, a unit that exceeds the norms—you can inspire others. Look for excellence, examine the purpose that drives the excellence, and then imagine it imbuing your entire workforce.”
Build off our current successes, wherever we may find them, and emulate the conditions for that success elsewhere.
The truth of step is “you do not invent a higher purpose; it already exists.” Deborah Ball, a former dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, provides a good example. “You identify gold nuggets, work with them, clarify them, integrate them, and continually feed them back.”
Purpose cannot be imposed on people or an organization. A disingenuous definition or interpretation of an organization’s purpose will only serve as hollow platitudes, that people will struggle to get behind.
Tying back to the discovery of purpose, this idea resonates throughout. Without authenticity, any message, mission, vision, values, or cultural underpinnings will lack the substance to be of any actionable value.
Integrity and authenticity are essential components for accomplishing any of the other steps.
Recently retired head of U.S. customer operations at Bank of America, Tony Meola had this to say, “When you hold it constant like that, when you never waver, an amazing thing happens. The purpose sinks into the collective conscience. The culture changes and the organization begins to perform at a higher level. Processes become simpler and easier to execute and sustain. People start looking for permanent solutions rather than stop-gap measures that create more inefficiencies through process variations.”
Consistency works not only to spread the authentic message but to also reinforce the authenticity of that message.
Helping employees understand the relationship between the organization’s authentic, higher purpose and their individual learning process strengthens both areas.
Challenging individuals to learn and develop, independent from explicit oversight or instruction, displays faith in their ability and potential. This allows their job to become an incubator for learning and development, and along the way, the employees gain confidence and become more committed to the organization and the higher purpose that drives it.
To build an inspired, committed workforce, you’ll need middle managers who not only know the organization’s purpose but also deeply connect with it and lead with moral power. That goes way beyond what most companies ask of their midlevel people.
By talking openly about their own sense of purpose and meaning, leaders can connect their tangible stories and experiences with the organization’s abstract purpose.
After these leaders at the top and in the middle have internalized the organization’s purpose, they can help frontline employees connect it to their day-to-day tasks. A top-down approach will not genuinely connect people to the purpose. Employees need to help drive this process, allowing the purpose to spread throughout the culture, shaping behavior even when leaders aren’t around to monitor their actions.
Every organization has a pool of change agents that usually goes untapped. Spread randomly throughout the organization are mature, purpose-driven people with an optimistic orientation, that naturally inspire others. They’re open and willing to take initiative. Once enlisted, they can assist with every step of the cultural change. These people are easy to identify, and others trust them.