Encoding Organizational Purpose: Designing for Progress in a World Demanding More

Download the Off-White Paper, Encoding Organizational Purpose, for a deep dive into organizational purpose.

In his 2019 letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote that “Purpose is not a mere tagline or marketing campaign; it’s a company’s fundamental reason for being — what it does every day to create value for its stakeholders. Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits, but the animating force for achieving them.”

A clearly defined organizational purpose lives beyond a company’s products, leaders, and market trends. To be successful, organizational purpose must start from the top down and often requires long-term, large-scale change. In Encoding Organizational Purpose, a new Off-White Paper from SYLVAIN and Kindred, we note that shifting an organizational purpose can only happen “when a company is willing to reorient and re-establish itself entirely.” 

With that in mind, how can leaders determine purpose and effectively implement it across operations and communications? Last week, we hosted an Assembly with SYLVAIN to answer this question. Kindred’s Sarah Green-Vieux and Racquel Joseph joined SYLVAIN’s Joey Camire and Conspiracy of Love’s Afhdel Aziz to unpack organizational purpose and why leaders need to pay attention. Below are key lessons from their conversation. 

Lessons on Encoding Organizational Purpose

  • Organizational purpose is distinct from brand purpose. Where brand purpose is focused on the public image a company presents to consumers, organizational purpose is the story a company tells to all its stakeholders. Traditionally, the task of determining a company’s brand purpose was relegated to marketing. Organizational purpose, however, must be woven into the fabric of the company.
  • Understanding purpose at all levels is key. Achieving a company’s organizational purpose is the responsibility of all employees. Leaders should ensure employees understand the set purpose and how to implement it across the company. 
  • Purpose clarity trumps purpose camaraderie. In a study, researchers found a distinction between purpose camaraderie where everyone “buys in” and enjoys their work versus purpose clarity in which employees truly understand what they are trying to achieve. “It’s great to have that camaraderie and build that culture where everyone is thriving. But, if you’re thriving on an individual level and you don’t know what you’re accomplishing, it doesn’t matter,” SYLVAIN’s Camire said.
  • ERGs are a guiding light for organizational purpose. Employees now engender massive changes within organizations and are a source of feedback for leaders who listen. Employee resource groups act as early warning signals that can help a company tell when its stated organizational purpose and its actions are out of sync. “If you’re a smart CEO, you spend a lot of time listening to what’s going on internally, and ERGs are almost like a way to distill feedback in a way that can help companies avoid making serious mistakes,” Afdhel noted.
  • Disruptions are an opportunity to rethink purpose. Disruption is a necessary precondition of innovation, and the disruptions in the past year created an opportunity for purpose-curious organizations to evolve. Moments of large-scale organizational changes are opportunities to rethink processes and goals with a better purpose in mind.
  • Correcting mistakes requires action. Companies that have successfully aligned their organizational purpose are also companies that make mistakes. When a company makes a mistake, consumers will pay attention to how it acts versus what it says. Creating public transparency around mistakes offers a significant learning opportunity for organizations and is a catalyst for a pivot in purpose.

Dig Deeper

Learn more about organizational purpose and how to implement it across an organization with the following resources. Kindred members have full access to the exclusive content linked out below. Not a member? Learn more about upcoming programming and other benefits of Kindred membership. 

Urey Onuoha

Published on July 29, 2021