skip to main content
Just How Purpose-Driven Is Your Organizational Culture?

Just How Purpose-Driven Is Your Organizational Culture?

by Jake Herway

Story Highlights

  • Organizations need purpose-driven cultures that deliver on ESG promises
  • Measurement is key to creating high-purpose organizational cultures
  • Determine where you can become more purpose-driven

When your organization succeeds, does the world also flourish?

It's a big question -- and your answer will determine your organization's future.

In the past, an organization could become exceptional through philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. Now, responsible changes and admirable promises are insufficient: People are choosing to share their resources with organizations that they are certain share their purpose.

Stakeholders want to see and feel that the organizations they purchase from and invest in are helping the world thrive through the products and services they provide. That is, it's not enough to say and do the right things: Organizations must be good, with a business model that makes the world better.

This seismic shift in societal expectations demands an equally seismic response from leaders. To win today and exist tomorrow, leaders must rethink why their organization exists and make purpose the core of their growth strategy.

Leaders are increasingly cognizant of the need to embrace a "net-positive" approach to business. In a visionary manifesto published by Harvard Business Review, Paul Polman and Andrew Winston describe a net-positive company as one that "improves wellbeing for everyone it impacts and at all scales -- every product, every operation, every region and country, and for every stakeholder, including employees, suppliers, communities, customers, and even future generations and the planet itself."

Many leaders assume their purpose already captures the hearts of global stakeholders -- but Gallup data suggest otherwise:

  • Only 27% of employees strongly agree that their organization always delivers on the promises it makes to customers.
  • Less than half of B2B customers (46%) strongly believe that the companies they do business with always deliver on their promises.
  • Only four in 10 employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important.

And if employees feel brand promises are unmet, they're likely to stage walkouts and publicly criticize their employers -- as Wayfair, Pinterest, Google and others have infamously experienced.

It's not enough to say and do the right things: Organizations must be good, with a business model that makes the world better.

To remedy this problem, leaders must build a purpose-driven culture where purpose drives "how we do things around here." Culture matters because perception is reality: You're only as "good" as stakeholders believe you are -- as your culture behaves. No matter what you tell the world, your employees' behavior will speak louder.

To create belief in your organization, you need a purpose-driven culture.

How purpose-driven is your culture? If the following statements describe you, you're well on your way. If not, now is the time to reflect on where you need to improve.

  • The purpose of our company makes every employee feel their job is important.
  • Our employees believe leadership is fully aligned on brand and culture priorities.
  • Our customers and employees would use the same words to describe who we are.
  • Our employees understand what makes us different from our competitors.
  • Customers know us for what we want to be known for.
  • Our employees are held accountable for living our purpose and values.
  • Our purpose and culture attract the best talent in the industry.
  • Our purpose and values are priority inputs in every leader's decision-making.
  • Leadership communication is consistently focused on purpose and values.
  • Our managers are the best in the industry.
  • Managers are held accountable for coaching their team's performance.
  • Purpose, brand and culture measures are infused in performance scorecards.

What Does a Purpose-Driven Culture Look Like?

In a purpose-driven culture, employees have a heartfelt sense of ownership for their purpose: Purpose energizes teams, informs their decisions and guides their day-to-day behavior. Employees know who they serve, what they serve and how to embody brand promises.

A purpose-driven culture makes money through its purpose: The better the organization does (i.e., the greater its market penetration), the better the world is.

When a work culture rallies behind a shared purpose, that purpose is reflected from the inside out in stakeholder experiences. That is, a purpose-driven culture walks the talk -- proving to customers, employees, suppliers and communities that you are who you say you are. It earns brand credibility and stakeholder loyalty.

How to Create a Purpose-Driven Culture

Becoming purpose-driven requires a clear, differentiated purpose and a workforce that knows how to live that purpose every day. The journey starts with the CEO, who must understand the value of culture and how to set the tone.

The CEO's first responsibility is to define an inspiring purpose. Then, CEOs must evolve their work culture so that every employee believes in and practices that purpose. Even an exemplary purpose is powerless if your culture doesn't bring it to life -- with employees who are passionate about fulfilling their shared purpose.

Getting there requires a measured and exhaustive assessment of an organization's purpose and culture. Analytics reveal whether your purpose is central to "how work gets done" or simply a peripheral, feel-good concept that doesn't influence employees' actions. The right data illuminate the best path to culture change.

Metrics also highlight disconnects in how employees and customers perceive your purpose -- so leaders can address lethal brand incongruity.

A purpose-driven culture makes money through its purpose: The better the organization does (i.e., the greater its market penetration), the better the world is.

Don't Let Culture Kill Your Brand:
Create CMO and CHRO Collaboration

A surefire way to nullify a purpose is by having a culture that doesn't follow through on brand promises. When culture and brand are poorly aligned, stakeholders' actual experiences will fall short of the purpose you portray to the world.

The solution is a purpose-driven CMO-CHRO partnership. When CEOs bring the work of the CMO and CHRO closer together, it can create congruence between brand and culture, unifying what you promise to do with what you actually do -- how your culture behaves.

For example, the CMO and CHRO can help HR functions inspire employees to champion their purpose. This might mean modifying performance metrics to incentivize purpose-driven employee behaviors -- or providing manager development so managers can connect individuals' unique contributions to the big picture. Regardless, your culture will exude purpose at every turn, earning credibility with stakeholders and growing your brand.

Here's another example of the power of CMO-CHRO collaboration: your employee experience. The CMO and CHRO can ensure employees' day-to-day experiences live up to the promises you make to job candidates, helping to attract and retain top talent.

When the CMO and CHRO put their heads together, they can make purpose who you are as an organization -- the north star that is evident in everything you say, do and represent.

Hologic, a global leader in medical technology and member of the World Economic Forum, exemplifies the value of a purpose-driven culture. Hologic furthers its purpose and promise -- to enable healthier lives and improve women's health -- by producing market-leading medical technologies. When Hologic succeeds, women's health necessarily improves across the globe.

Hologic leaders fuel a purpose-driven culture through measurement and accountability. To this end, Hologic's head of HR and global marketing chief partnered with Gallup to create the Hologic Global Women's Health Index, the world's most comprehensive, globally comparative survey on women's health.

Through this unprecedented index, Hologic is empowering world leaders and change-makers to better women's health worldwide. And because the index showcases Hologic's dedication to its purpose, it inspires employees to rally behind that purpose -- creating an unstoppable culture that embodies brand promises every day.

In the future, even the most well-intentioned and benevolent companies will lose if they're not holding themselves accountable to an authentic purpose. Being responsible and investing in the right causes is essential, but it's not enough. CEOs have to credibly demonstrate that the world is better off because their organization is in it.

It's a high bar to set, but also an incredible opportunity because few organizations will rise to this challenge. The CEOs who do -- those who build a purpose-driven culture -- will create brands that change the world.

Lead with purpose:


Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030