Cultivating a Purpose-Centric Culture: Why You Should Be Prioritizing Meaning Over Metrics
Aug 09, 2023•10 minute read
In today's corporate world, the pressure to meet targets and achieve quantifiable metrics often takes precedence over other important aspects of a company's success.
Many companies focus on maximizing profits, market share, or growth, without considering the broader impact of their actions on their employees, customers, society, and the environment.
However, a paradigm shift is underway.
More and more leaders are starting to realize that a purpose-driven approach to their business can have a larger impact on their performance than just numbers.
This article explores the reasons companies should prioritize purpose over metrics, and how this approach can positively impact not only your company’s culture but also its bottom line.
What is Purpose in the Workplace?
The importance of purpose is not a new concept. In his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" Maslow ranked self-actualization highest among human motivations.
And purpose is both a prerequisite and a result of self-actualization.
According to Maslow, self-actualization is the process of becoming “everything you are capable of becoming”. To achieve this, one needs to have a clear sense of what they want to do and why they want to do it. Purpose serves as a guiding light, igniting motivation and direction on the path of self-actualization.
Yet, purpose is not a rigid construct; it evolves and matures as individuals progress and evolve. As one pursues their purpose, they may discover new aspects of themselves and their potential. They may also encounter new challenges and opportunities that require them to adapt and learn.
In this way, purpose is also a result of self-actualization, as it reflects the ongoing process of becoming more fully oneself.
The Importance of Purpose in Today's Workplace
In a corporate setting, purpose represents the essence of why a company exists beyond mere profit-making. It's the higher calling or mission that ignites passion in employees and stakeholders, offering them a sense of fulfillment and significance in their roles.
When individuals feel that their work contributes to a greater good and matters in the grand scheme of things, they become more engaged, innovative, and satisfied in their jobs. Purpose-driven employees are also more inclined to develop their skills, seek new challenges, and strive for growth.
Some experts consider a company's purpose as a form of transcendence—an advancement beyond self-actualization. This concept involves connecting with something bigger than oneself, whether it's a cause, a community, or a higher purpose.
They reference the work of Quinn and Thakor (2018), who define transcendence as 'the aspiration to discover life's meaning through connection to something greater than oneself'.
They argue that purpose-led companies can foster transcendence by creating a shared sense of meaning and direction among their stakeholders, as well as by contributing to the common good of society.
In a nutshell, purpose-driven companies tap into the human desire for meaning and connection, leading to a more inspired and harmonious work environment where everyone is working together towards a shared sense of fulfillment.
The Advantages of Operating as a Purpose-Driven Company
According to a survey by Deloitte, purpose-driven companies experience higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving superior workforce and customer satisfaction.
Moreover, a study by Harvard Business Review found that more than 90% of purpose-driven organizations deliver growth and profits at or above the industry average.
But how does having a purpose lead to these outcomes? There are several mechanisms that explain the positive effects of purpose on organizational performance and culture.
Some of them are:
1. Purpose inspires and motivates employees.
A clear and authentic purpose can provide employees with a sense of meaning, direction, and belonging in their work. Employees who are aligned with the organizational purpose are more likely to be engaged, productive, creative, and loyal.
Encourage Employee Development
Give employees the opportunity to share their knowledge and progress with each other.
They are also more likely to collaborate and innovate with their colleagues and customers, as they share a common vision and goal.
A study by McKinsey found that employees who are intrinsically motivated by their work are 32% more committed and 46% more satisfied than those who are extrinsically motivated by rewards or recognition.
2. Purpose attracts and retains talent.
In today’s competitive and dynamic labor market, attracting and retaining talent is a key challenge for many organizations.
Having a purpose can help organizations differentiate themselves from their competitors and appeal to the values and aspirations of potential and current employees.
A study found that 74% of candidates want a job where they feel like their work matters, and 86% of millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own.
3. Purpose builds trust and loyalty with customers.
Customers today are not only looking for quality products or services at a reasonable price; they are also looking for brands that stand for something bigger than themselves.
Customers who identify with a brand’s purpose are more likely to trust, support, and recommend it to others.
A study by Accenture found that 62% of customers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues, such as sustainability, transparency, or fair employment practices.
4. Purpose drives innovation and growth.
Having a purpose can help organizations identify new opportunities and markets that align with their core values and competencies.
A purpose-driven organization can also leverage its purpose to inspire and guide its innovation efforts, as it seeks to solve meaningful problems and create a positive impact for its stakeholders.
A study by EY found that 58% of companies that prioritized purpose experienced growth of 10% or more in the past three years, compared to 42% of those that did not.
5. Purpose Cultivates Resilience
Purpose-driven companies can weather storms and challenges more effectively. In difficult times, a shared purpose can act as a guiding light, motivating employees to persevere and find innovative solutions.
Prioritizing Purpose Over Metrics: Key Considerations
Metrics can be useful tools, but they can also be misleading traps. When you only measure your success by numbers, you might miss the forest for the trees.
You might forget why you do what you do, and who you do it for. You might lose sight of your purpose, and the impact you can have on the world.
And even if that seems a bit long-winded, there’s actually more than one way in which metrics can be the death of a company’s purpose:
1. Undermining the strategy of the company
Metrics are meant to measure and track the performance of the business processes that support the strategy of the company. However, sometimes employees may confuse the metrics with the strategy itself, and focus on achieving the numbers rather than fulfilling the strategic objectives.
This is called surrogation, and it can lead to unintended consequences and misaligned actions.
2. A narrow focus on short-term goals, rather than long-term vision
Metrics are often used to evaluate and reward the performance of employees and managers. However, this can create pressure to meet or exceed the targets in a given period, such as a quarter or a year. This can lead to a short-term mindset that prioritizes immediate results over long-term value creation.
For example, a sales manager may be tempted to offer discounts or incentives to boost sales revenue in the current quarter, but this may erode profitability and customer satisfaction in the future. Or a product manager may be tempted to launch a new product before it is fully tested and refined, but this may compromise the quality and reputation of the brand.
3. Ignoring the intangible aspects of a business
KPIs and other metrics work quite well when looking at tangible aspects of the business, such as sales, costs, profits, market share, etc. However, they may overlook the intangible aspects that are also vital for the success of the business, such as customer loyalty, employee engagement, innovation, culture, etc.
Engage and retain your employees in uncertain times.
A company may have employees who work hard and produce a lot, but they may not enjoy their work or feel valued. This can lower their morale and affect the quality of their work, their willingness to stay in the company and the reputation of the company.
Therefore, metrics alone may not show the true value or potential of a business. A business should also pay attention to the intangible aspects that give it a competitive edge and long-term sustainability.
4. Metrics may stifle creativity and innovation
If only metrics are taken into account when evaluating performance, that can create a culture of conformity and risk aversion that discourages creativity and innovation.
For instance, a research and development manager might avoid pursuing new ideas or experiments with uncertain outcomes or high costs, fearing that potential failure could adversely impact their upcoming performance review.
This may limit the potential for breakthroughs or discoveries that could transform the business.
5. Create a competitive culture that undermines collaboration and trust.
Performance reviews that are based on tangible metrics alone can actually bring a plethora of issues with them.
When you only reward people based on their performance, you might create a sense of rivalry and insecurity among your team members.
You might also discourage them from sharing their ideas, feedback, and challenges because they fear being judged or losing their status.
But how do you create such a culture in your organization?
The truth is that creating a purpose-driven culture is not a one-time event or a top-down initiative; instead, it's an ongoing process necessitating commitment, communication, and action across all organizational levels.
Some of the steps that can help organizations create a purpose-driven culture are:
The first step is to define and articulate your purpose in a clear and compelling way. Your purpose should answer the question: “What would the world lose if your organization disappeared?” Your purpose should also reflect your unique strengths, capabilities, and aspirations, as well as the needs and expectations of your stakeholders. Make this concise, memorable, and inspiring, and communicate it consistently and frequently to all members of your organization.
The next step is to align your strategy and operations with your purpose. Your strategy should outline how you will achieve your purpose, what goals and objectives you will pursue, and what measures and indicators you will use to track your progress. Your operations should ensure that your processes, policies, systems, and structures support and enable your strategy and purpose. You should also ensure that your purpose is embedded in your decision making, resource allocation, risk management, and innovation efforts.
The third step is to engage and empower your employees with your purpose. You should involve your employees in defining and refining your purpose, as well as in developing and executing your strategy. You should also provide your employees with opportunities to learn about, connect with, and contribute to your purpose. Recognize and reward your employees for demonstrating behaviors and outcomes that align with your purpose and empower your employees to share their stories, feedback, and ideas related to your purpose.
To achieve your purpose, you need to engage and work with your customers and partners. This means sharing your purpose with them, and listening to their needs, expectations, and values. It also means creating value and impact together, by inviting them to participate in your innovation processes, offering them solutions that solve their problems or fulfill their aspirations, and asking them to join you in pursuing your purpose. Moreover, it means building trust and loyalty with them, by keeping your promises, exceeding their expectations, and recognizing their contributions.
Purpose is not a buzzword or a fad; it is a powerful driver of organizational performance and culture. Purpose can help organizations create positive value and impact for their stakeholders, while achieving higher growth, profitability, satisfaction, and loyalty.
Purpose can also help organizations shape and enhance their culture, by inspiring, motivating, engaging, empowering, connecting, and collaborating with their employees, customers, and partners.
However, creating a purpose-driven culture is not easy or quick; it requires commitment, communication, and action from all levels of the organization. Organizations that want to become more purpose-driven need to define and articulate their purpose, align their strategy and operations with their purpose, engage and empower their employees with their purpose, and connect and collaborate with their customers and partners around their purpose.
By doing so, organizations can not only achieve better results for themselves, but also make a positive difference in the world.