How do organizations bring purpose to life—ingraining purpose with the power to transform? Our approach to developing an authentic purpose and helping organizations live it integrates internal and external inputs from multiple perspectives with four steps—discover, articulate, activate, and embed—that build upon and reinforce one another. The final step, Embed, is just as crucial as the first three.
If the Activation step is about communicating and symbolizing purpose, this Embed step is about deepening and sustaining it. It’s about bringing purpose to life in a way that ensures the organization embodies it every day. Purpose is embedded through longer-term changes in the organizational environment, or context. By context, we mean everything from the organization’s leadership and design to its systems, such as learning and development, performance management, and rewards and incentives—all of which shape people’s behaviors. Context addresses both intrinsic motivators (through, for example, opportunities for meaningful work and personal growth) and extrinsic motivators (through, for example, compensation and benefits and decision rights). (For more on organizational context and culture, see High-Performance Culture: Getting It, Keeping It, BCG Focus, June 2013.)
A powerful way to embed purpose is to make it a central focus of a recruitment program. SunTrust did just that (the firm calls its approach the “Sun screen”). According to SunTrust’s former marketing director, “The number one thing our recruits tell us is that ‘The reason I’m here is because of SunTrust’s purpose.’”
Companies should also integrate purpose into their learning and development programs and performance management systems—tying rewards and incentives to behaviors that embody the organization’s purpose. They might redefine decision rights to cultivate ownership at the local level; this could mean giving branch managers greater authority in resolving customer issues or in how they participate in community activities. Or companies might refresh their systems with digital technologies that identify practices that conflict with purpose. For example, a call center whose purpose encompassed respect for customers’ personal time might get zealous about reducing hold times. Companies might even use smartphone apps or other digital technologies to push coaching tips consistent with purpose (such as suggestions for interacting with customers in ways that advance purpose).
An organization can also modify the work environment to help embed purpose. For example, SunTrust redesigned its executive floor at headquarters to communicate its purpose. Interactive video walls feature stories from team members and clients that demonstrate the company’s purpose. Everyone who walks this floor, which serves as a break area for employees as well as a gathering place for guests, can experience SunTrust’s purpose.
Above all, leaders must continue to walk the talk. The choices made by leaders at every level send a powerful signal: leaders should not only publicly recognize and promote direct reports who consistently live the purpose, but they must also be willing to stand in the way of those who don’t, even those whose performance is otherwise strong. Leaders must also manage their time in a way that’s consistent with purpose. For example, if the company’s purpose requires a deep connection with customers, leaders should take the time to engage more frequently with them. This role-modeling behavior serves as a critical example for the rest of their team.
Find out more about our process by reading our white paper: Purpose with the Power to Transform.