Purpose and Digital: An API for the Organization’s Why

Written by

Chip Gross BCG BrightHouse Alumnus |

May 13, 2019 · 5-minute read

As digital continues to accelerate the pace of change in business, we thought it worthwhile to discuss the role of digital and its connection to Purpose. The discussion around Purpose has been popular, if not to say trendy. It’s been a counterpoint to the changes happening throughout every industry. We believe that done right, nothing is more future-proof than Purpose. But what does this really mean in the age of digital transformation?

Key questions to contemplate:

  • What is the relationship between an organization’s purpose and the impact that Digital is making to its internal operations?
  • What about the impact it’s making to the industry that it operates within?
  • Should the increased role of digitization impact how an organization defines its Purpose (with its customers and employees?)
  • In what ways can Digital assist an organization in uncovering, defining and living its Purpose?

As a quick refresher, an organization’s Purpose is its “why”: the timeless idea at the intersection of the unique value it provides and the universal need in the world. As Aristotle noted, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” When uncovered and defined, Purpose becomes that guiding force and rallying cry for the organization. It also directly informs what a Purpose-driven organization does and doesn’t do – regardless of the means in which it mobilizes (e.g. digital). Thinking of the visual below, mission is what the organization does. Vision is where the organization is going, and strategy is the path and steps that the organization takes to connect its mission to its vision. Purpose is the guiding light that feeds it all. (For more, see our piece on Purpose with the Power to Transform your Organization)

Mountain Slide[2]

When we talk about digital (and it’s nearly impossible to avoid talking about it!), Purpose is essential. To use a technology analogy, Purpose is the API for the organization. An API is code that other applications reference; it feeds data from one place to a range of applications. Similarly, Purpose underpins and impacts everything that the organization does.  In many ways, it is the doorway to transformation.  While digital is an enabler and transformative, it is not an alternative to Purpose and is still dependent on the organizational norms it exists within.

When Purpose is absent or misunderstood, the organization underperforms (regardless of the industry, product, or level of digital enablement). Simply put, digital alone can’t fix the organization or maximize its success if it lacks Purpose. This bears itself out in painful effect with a number of companies that we all are familiar with.

Digital and the Purpose-led organization
At BrightHouse, we think of unearthing and embedding Purpose and enabling and enhancing it digitally.  To that point, Its multi-faceted and manifests itself in a number of ways:

  • New products and capabilities
  • Increased connectivity and new modes of communication
  • Process enablement and efficiency
  • Analytics and Insight

At BrightHouse, we take a very tailored, deliberate, and intensive approach, informed by over 20 years of Purpose-focused consulting. We also apply the capabilities of our in-house studio of strategists, writers, designers, and filmmakers to creatively discover, articulate, activate and embed Purpose within the organization. In these ways, we work with organizations to construct engagements tailored to their unique challenges and needs. And digital helps in every step of our process. Simply put, since, Purpose is the API for the organization, Digital can be the catalyst that enables and amplifies it. It can bring insight to light.

Getting started
Discover: Uncover the organization’s distinctive strengths and the needs of the key stakeholders

  • In this phase we can use digital to investigate and gather organizational insights from a range of sources.
  • Digital can also be applied through a range of collaboration tools while we’re mining data within the organization, keeping everyone informed and collecting insights and stories in one place.

Articulate: Define the organization’s purpose and story

  • We can use Digital to craft and capture the unique stories within the organization on a larger scale than before.
  • Digital is also a key visual storytelling medium – telling the organization’s purpose story in an interactive way that further brings the Purpose journey to life.

Activate: Communicate the Purpose and engage the organization

  • One of the main ways we use digital is to equip Sr. leadership with a toolkit, a digital repository that communicates the Purpose/Vision/Values, along with Stories and key messages.
  • Digital guides can help management activate Purpose and amplify it using all the touchpoints within the organization, particularly in the digital spaces that employees interact every day.
  • Digital also allows us to create cross-channel experiences that communicate the organizations Purpose and brings it to life for its employees, customers and other critical stakeholders.

Embed: Create the mechanisms to ensure the organization is living the purpose day to day through behaviors, actions, stories

  • Embedding Purpose requires measuring its impact and quantitative measurement is powered by digital methods across the organization.
  • Digital can be used to capture, measure, and maximize the organization’s Purpose “heartbeat” – for more detail see our piece “For Purpose to Matter You Have to Measure It”
  • Similar to Activate, we can leverage internal and external digital channels, social, experiential for activation ensuring there are touchpoints for Purpose on an ongoing basis.

In closing, a defining point for Digital is its ability to drive rapid change and massive transformation wherever it is applied. It is in these times that Purpose is truly paramount to guide companies in setting the right strategies, making the right investments and building the right talent bases to survive and thrive. “Done right, nothing is more future-proof than Purpose.”

Look for more information about our thought leadership here at BrightHouse on the blog. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest insights on purpose. 

Photo by Austin Poon on Unsplash

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