Design a Better Culture on Purpose: Expert Advice

Research shows that corporate purpose statements often do more harm than good because they are political exercises rather than words that people passionately believe in,” were the words of Dr. Robert Quinn when I interviewed him for “A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture.”

Quinn stresses the need to allow purpose to emerge through asking powerful questions that bring out the passion that people have for their work. Anyone who has gone through the exercise of discovering their own purpose, co-creating the purpose of their organization, and seeing how one feeds into the other, will understand how this exercise makes you feel a part of something much bigger than yourself. This is a feeling and passion that leads people to contribute their best to their organization.

It is important to “discover” purpose, says Quinn. Here is an excerpt of the interview with him, from my book: “It already exists, but no one can tell you what it is. You must go out and do the work that leads to the discovery of the process, and then establish relationships in which it is continually being discussed and tested, and that you’re learning and they’re learning in a co-creative process.”

To develop your organization’s purpose statement, or determine if the one you have is real, he suggests asking this series of questions:

  • For what would we sacrifice?
  • If this is our purpose, then what things would we suffer inconvenience around because of it? (e.g. If the purpose of my healthcare institution is to heal people, then to achieve that purpose I will suffer the inconvenience of working nights.)
  • If this is our purpose, how will we relate to each other differently?
  • Do the people immediately below me share this purpose?
  • If they share this purpose, what sacrifices are they willing to make?

Finding purpose is not a one-shot thing. It is a continual conversation and a constantly emerging process. But once found, it is engaging and motivating for people. It helps to streamline our decision making. (E.g. If faced with a new project, ask “Does this fit with our purpose? If not, why are we doing it?”)

Roy Spence, author of It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose, says that the visionary companies he has worked with have all had a core purpose that fuels everything that they do. He defines purpose as “a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world.”

He suggests another series of questions to help discover purpose, such as:

  • Why did you start doing the work you do in the first place?
  • Why did this company start doing what it does?
  • Why is that important to the people we serve?
  • What false starts have we had?

Here is an excerpt from my book about my own experience in finding purpose when leading the Health Work & Wellness Conference:

“I found this ‘need to discover purpose’ to be very true when leading the conference. We were into our 5th year before we solidified our mission and vision, and it wasn’t until after our 10th year that our purpose statement emerged. It was a co-creative process in both cases.

In the beginning, I had a vision for a national conference and gathered together the right team who could put on an outstanding first few events. Over time however, it was important for the entire team to create our mission, vision and purpose for the future so that it became the mission of the group and we were all striving for the same vision.”

In off-site retreats, our discussion was very appreciative, asking generative questions such as:

  • What are we doing right?
  • What are we doing well?
  • What do we believe in?
  • What are we all about?
  • What do we strive to become?

“I remember one discussion we had in my dining room during a retreat. We had flipchart papers all over the walls and we had a few statements that stood out. We were closing in on one, but I was feeling like we weren’t there yet. Talking to no one in particular, I said, ‘That’s just not quite it, because what we’re really about is creating a better workplace.’ Our Marketing Director got excited and said, ‘That’s it! That’s our purpose! Creating a better workplace!’

It sounds so simple, and it really is, but it took time to emerge. This became the purpose of our organization going forward, eventually causing us to change the name of the conference from the Health Work & Wellness Conference to The Better Workplace Conference.”

Solidifying your purpose can lead to further discussions about what kind of culture is necessary to achieve the purpose and vision you have created – asking the question, “What do we want our culture to be?” and then “What are the practices we need to adopt to achieve that culture?”

Finding purpose is a practice that anyone can lead. Like so many of the practices that transform culture, it is simple, but can lead to big results.

Learn more about practices that transform workplace culture with Deb in Vancouver on September 20th – register here
Or in Nanaimo on October 4thregister here

Follow this blog for bi-weekly ideas to create your “better place to work” from Deborah’s new book A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture.

If you want to delve deeper into these practices join Deborah’s online course “8 Weeks To A Better Place To Work” starting again October 18/18. Log in every week from the comfort of your office or home and join others, like you, who are engaging in new practices to improve the health and positivity in their workplaces. A complimentary copy of A Better Place To Work will be sent to you as a part of this course. It’s like book club, with online coaching – fun, informative and hugely practical!

Order your copy of A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture, with reduced prices available for bulk orders for your team and organization.

Photo by Landon Sveinson Photography.

Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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