Shared Purpose – Uniting Brand and Culture to Drive Business Performance

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Expanding the Concept of Value

For too long, the “business-as-usual” approach to generating revenue and achieving growth has disengaged customers and employees, bred mistrust and damaged reputations by substituting relentless pursuit of profits for vision and frequently foregoing mission entirely. Business literature and practices favoring “efficiency” typically address only a particular business need, such as replacing full-time employees with machines and part-time or seasonal labor, rather than leading to long-term health and profitability.

A recent survey of 90,000 worker by Towers Watson found that only one in five employees report being “fully engaged” in their work.

At some point, of course, the goal of any for-profit business must be to turn a profit. But business isn’t quite so straightforward as simply striving to be profitable. The pursuit of profit as an end in itself, as opposed to providing something of value, works in few industries outside of pure financial arbitrage. Consumers and other businesses purchase goods and services not simply for the lowest cost, but for any number of reasons, from reinforcing their identity to satisfying an emotional need. The concept of “value” needs to be expanded, as Michael Porter has championed, to one where companies create value not just for shareholders and customers, but also for employees, the communities in which the company operates and society overall. By doing so, companies can engage individuals well beyond economic rationality and become a key factor in satisfying their rational, emotional and self-expressive needs.

What is Shared Purpose?

Successful business leaders increasingly understand that the alignment of management, operations, strategy, marketing and culture not only distinguish top performing companies from mediocre firms, but has a more consistent and profound impact on growth and profit than traditional barometers of success. Rather than spin on the relentless treadmill of quarterly earnings, smart businesses turn a critical eye inward on their organizations. They strive toward returns without negative side effects while simultaneously considering opportunities to create positive effects throughout, all galvanized around a singular idea that unites the brand. This is what we call Shared Purpose – a clear definition of value that engages customer and enlists employees. It is simultaneously much simpler, yet so much more than snappy taglines or complex proprietary models. An organization with a clear and compelling Shared Purpose tells the world not just what an organization does, but why this matters; convinces customers not just to buy, but to believe; and persuades employees not just to show up, but to step up.

For those who want to be in business for the long term, organizational performance undergirds and advances future success. At BrandCulture, organizational culture and branding are two sides of the same coin—a company’s inner truth. Genuine articulation, common understanding and expression of a company’s character is the competitive advantage that attracts and retains top-notch employees, gains the trust of customers and lays the foundation for long-term success. Shared Purpose helps employees understand how their work is making an impact and how they are making a difference.

How to Align Your Brand and Culture

Shared Purpose begins with a singular idea that asserts unique value to engage employees and drive customer preference.

As organizations scale and become decentralized, it is increasingly difficult for a Shared Purpose to arise and exist organically. As a result, companies must use a variety of techniques to manage, direct and  expand a Shared Purpose throughout their organizations. Our own system is inspired by the work of corporate  culture pioneer Dr. Terrence Deal. A Shared Purpose statement posted in a breakroom or listed in the “About Us” section of a website does little to guide behavior and action. Shared Purpose must inform both the underlying strategy as well as a company’s daily routines.

We begin the development of Shared Purpose by examining and defining the aspirations, values, attitudes and competencies that comprise a collective organization. We divide our approach into a Brand Platform that consists of six constituent components and draw on a Cultural Framework of six distinct levers across the organization to effectively align brand and culture around its Shared Purpose. Through these six constituent elements we can build a Shared Purpose that tells the world not just what an organization does, but why it matters; convinces customers not just to buy, but to believe; and persuades employees not just to show up, but to step up.

Brand Platform

Positioning – the promise

The relevant, credible and differentiated value the organization asserts
and delivers

Mission – the organization’s calling

What the organization has come together to accomplish

Vision – the highest aspiration

The ultimate impact on the world that the organization will have

Personality – the style

The attributes, qualities and traits that animate how the organization approaches business

Values – the code

Ideals and attitudes that collectively define what the organization stands for and the way it works together

Pillars – the strengths

The core organizational competencies that create sustainable
competitive advantage

Culture FrameworkLeadership

Establishing priorities and inspiring employees to reach their highest potential

Communications

Disseminating compelling and clear information to attract customers, galvanize organizational culture and activate the brand.

Symbolism

Developing significance in cultural hallmarks that serve as touchstones of the organization.

Rewards and Recognition

Catalyzing employee engagement and performance through incentives and public acknowledgement

Environment

Creating the physical space of an organization to harmonize functional, emotional and self-expressive needs.

Structure

Establishing the systems and processes that form the framework for how the organization pursues its Shared Purpose.

Shared Purpose = Resilient Reputation

Developing, expressing and instilling Shared Purpose

Different organizations discuss Shared Purpose in different ways. Some claim ownership of a “mission,” others describe their “vision” or “covenant,” while others articulate a “purpose” or “vision statement.” Regardless  of the nomenclature, Shared Purpose remains distinct from taglines and advertising campaigns.

Lexus may be best known for its “Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” tag line and for offering luxury vehicles at great value, but what sets them apart from comparable brands is the Lexus Covenant. Led by this covenant, Lexus subsequently reinvented the luxury automobile dealership experience throughout North America. In the same way, Southwest seeks to deliver its own mission by ensuring every employee understands how his or her effort contributes to the mission of delivering their exceptional travel experience, even if it means pilots bringing strollers down to baggage handlers on the tarmac so a flight leaves on time. Southwest makes sure they reward their employees who deliver on this mission by backing them with financial reserves. Thus the airline has never had a layoff and can trace its one and only labor strike to a six-day action in 1980. The longstanding tagline “Talk to Chuck” helped convey the colloquial, inviting tone the investment firm Charles Schwab strives for helping “everyone become financially fit” by sharing in the benefits of investing.

Shared Purpose built around a singular idea permeates the culture of a number of organizations.

Publications tend to focus on the usual suspects: Google, Starbucks, Zappos and Airbnb. But it’s not just current technology leaders or media darlings that have built their organizational culture around a singular idea. Some enduring brands have maintained this focus for decades, including: Lexus, Southwest Airlines, Charles Schwab and Nike.

Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful

Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time

Zappos: To provide the best customer service possible

AirBnB: To allow you to belong anywhere

Lexus: To treat each customer as we would a guest in our home

Southwest: To deliver customer service with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit

CharlesSchwab: To challenge Wall Street and provide more Americans with the opportunity to benefit from investing

Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *if you have a body, you are an athlete

Creating Your Shared Purpose

There is no one size-fits-all approach to creating Shared Purpose, and each organization must pull different levers to unify its brand and culture most effectively. What works for Target, Trader Joe’s and UPS may not be right for other businesses. While consultants and best practices can influence the process of building a strong culture, each organization must find its own unique approach and work tirelessly to engage and educate employees and customers in order to truly create a sense of Shared Purpose.

We believe the best way to build enduring, resilient brands starts with identifying and defining the organization’s Shared Purpose. But we know it’s neither simple, nor easy. Focusing on a singular idea feels daunting because it necessitates leaving many good ancillary ideas on the cutting room floor. Then again, the alternative is equally daunting: organizations that try to be everything to everybody often end up signifying nothing to anybody.

We begin by asking:

What credible, differentiated value do you provide your customers?

Why does your organization exist?

How will you impact the world?

What’s the style and tone in your day-to-day business approach?

What does your organization stand for and how do you work together?

What are the core competencies and skills that will help you succeed?

Although answers to all of these questions may not be immediately apparent, they lay the groundwork for uncovering the foundation of Shared Purpose.

If you’re interested in Shared Purpose, you can learn more here.

Now It’s Your Turn
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