We worked with a CEO who wanted to create a purpose driven organization. Many CEOs come to this desire after experiencing a crisis. Others arrive after experiencing a personal epiphany. They transcend conventional, economic thinking. They suddenly see the desirability of organizing to a higher purpose. In this case a man saw the need to leave his conventional organization and find a position that would allow him to create a purpose driven organization. It became his passion.
He became a CEO. He regularly asked the question, “why do we exist as a company, what is our highest contribution?” The question was unusual and few had answers. It took three years to specify the purpose of the company.
Once the purpose was specified, the CEO worked to internalize it in the people at the top, and then he implemented a cascading process, taking it down to the middle managers. Often this latter process fails. In this case it was a success. Why? The cascading began well after the pandemic hit. When the pandemic hit, the CEO made every decision based on the statement of higher purpose. He instituted one policy after another to help the employees. None of the policies was conventional. The people noticed.
When we worked with the mid-level managers, we asked them what the purpose of the company meant to them, and was it authentic? The huge majority could explain the purpose and nearly everyone was convinced that the purpose was authentic. They cited the behavior of the CEO. In fact, many middle managers expressed the desire to emulate the CEO. They wanted to be purpose-driven leaders. The response was unusual and impressive.
In a recent interview, an outsider asked the CEO to explain the commercial value of his effort. He responded that when he began, 25% of the people were fully engaged. Now almost everyone is fully engaged. He gave many unusual examples, including a recent, herculean effort to support a key customer. The effort came from both the top-down and the bottom-up.
He cited the fact the company was recently named as a best place to work. The CEO then spoke of creating a virtuous cycle. You create an authentic higher purpose, the people become more engaged. They create a system with more positive attributes. Success flows to the organization. More customers, employees, and other stake holders want to be associated with the organization. Everyone likes what they are doing, and engagement spirals up. In the meantime the financial numbers verify the value of the upward cycle.
- What do you believe about the value of higher purpose?
- In this case the man was a CEO, can a person in your role create a unit of higher purpose?
- What principles in this case could help you elevate your unit?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?