CEOs often say having a great corporate purpose is vital to their organizations' success, but companies are often ineffective at living them. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Hubert Joly, former chair and CEO of Best Buy, offers five tips on connecting staff to your company's purpose.
1. Start off slow
Joly writes that he's seen "many companies rush the process of defining and then deploying their purpose," which "tends to lead to disappointing results."
Sometimes fixing basic operational problems needs to come before defining and deploying a corporate purpose, Joly writes. For example, in 2012 when Joly first became CEO of Best Buy, the company was "plagued with fundamental execution issues."
As a result, reflecting on the company's purpose wasn't the top priority. Instead, the company focused initial efforts on fixing operations, and later, once that issue was addressed, the company then focused on defining and articulating its purpose, Joly writes.
It's important to remember a company's noble purpose is found at the intersection of four areas:
1. The human needs the company wants to address
2. The unique capabilities of the company
3. What the company's employees are passionate about
4. How the company can create economic value
2. Remember, actions speak louder than words
One of the best ways to make sure company culture permeates throughout an organization is to role model the expected behavior from the top down, Joly writes.
Joly spent the first week of his job as CEO at a store in Minnesota "to learn from our frontliners what we needed to change to be successful. This sent the clear signal that we were going to focus on better serving our customers — and that we would do it through the intelligence of our employees."
3. Translate from the abstract to the practical
For a company's purpose to become a reality, it needs to be translated from abstract terms to practical ones, Joly writes.
For example, Starbucks' corporate purpose promises to be a "bridge to a better future" for its employees, to "uplift the everyday" for its customers, and to "ensure the future of coffee for all" for the farmers it sources its coffee beans from.
One way Starbucks applies its promise to its employees is through full scholarships for a first-time bachelor's degree through Arizona State University's online program, Joly writes.
4. Keep it simple
For a company's purpose to be effective, it must speak to everyone. Not only does it need to be translated to practical terms, but also simple, human terms, Joly writes.
At Best Buy, Joly writes that the company's first attempt at defining its purpose led to the idea of "enrich life through technology." That idea became more palatable to Best Buy's employees once it was anchored in the idea of acting like an "inspiring friend," Joly writes.
Best Buy's team then translated that into different guiding behaviors — such as "be human" — that allowed all employees to "make that purpose come to life in their daily interactions with customers and each other," Joly writes.
5. Have human conversations
Helping every employee understand a company's purpose "doesn't happen through one-off, top-down PowerPoint presentations and posters plastered on the walls of the office," Joly writes.
Instead, personal, human stories work much more effectively to illustrate what a company stands for and how it operates.
For example, at Microsoft, meetings often end with the question: "Was this a growth-mindset or a fixed-mindset meeting? Why?"
At Best Buy, Joly writes that leaders often ask about employees' life stories, what their purpose in life is, and what drives them, and how all of that can connect to their work.
"We know making a noble corporate purpose come to life is both important and hard," Joly writes. "Emerging practices from leading companies show that the journey is not about top-down messaging. If anything, it's about inside-out and bottom-up dialogue, as this is how we human beings can ultimately connect with a broader mission." (Joly, Harvard Business Review, 10/26)
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