Article: Changing your company culture to stay on top

Leaders who aren’t able to build a purpose-driven culture risk falling behind. Speak to any large organization — from BMW to Intel to Thomson Reuters — and you find their talent management and acquisition teams working overtime.

According to research, businesses are facing a severe talent shortage in the years to come. Consequently, the best talent will have the luxury to pick where they want to work.

With millennials entering the workforce, it doesn’t look like they want to work for any organization that doesn’t commit to a deeper purpose. To attract and retain the best talent, leaders will need to build cultures that engage their employees and customers on a deeper level — a work environment where people can contribute to a social mission, to a purpose that’s beyond making money.

“When I speak at universities, there are legions of young people who are saying ‘We’re not going to work for a company that doesn’t have a social mission’,” says Rick Ridgewood, vice president at Patagonia.

According to a Deloitte study, 73 percent of millennials want their employer to have a deeper purpose. Aside from millennials, more and more companies are rethinking the way they operate, because creating a purpose culture actually translates to better business.

The Firms of Endearment study shows that companies whose teams are driven by a high level of passion and purpose outperform traditional companies by a factor of eight to one over 10 years. Since Paul Polman took over as CEO, Unilever’s stock increased by 160 percent — driven by their brands with the deepest commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The same holds true for smaller companies: “A common purpose brings out a whole new level of vigor and engagement in our people,” says Gordon Seabury, CEO of Santa Barbara-based Toad & Co.

The question is how do you establish a purpose-driven culture?

Building the culture

When we ask leaders how to create a culture, most shrug their shoulders. Some answer “Well, you just live it. You become the example.” Unfortunately, that’s not a scalable approach.

But even worse, “just living it” leaves employees constantly reading and interpreting the leader’s actions, which leaves much room for uncertainty. And whenever there’s uncertainty, there is fear — far from the common purpose and engagement we strive to create.

Even leaders of the world’s largest companies are still scratching their heads.

A global client initiated a culture change from the top, sent out inspiring presentations and held workshops with the top executives — but the culture didn’t change. Why? Because the leaders didn’t change. They did not know how.

What’s needed is a structured approach to build a purpose-driven culture, a step-by-step manual that any leader can implement for their team.


To establish a purpose culture, leaders need to address two elements: building a culture and developing a purpose. The culture element defines “how things get done,” the “rules of the game,” or the values of the organization. The purpose element describes “why we do what we do” — the higher purpose.


Simple as it sounds, many organizations find these two elements hard to define and even more challenging to implement.


Oftentimes, values are defined by top leaders and framed nicely in the lobby. But they aren’t part of the company’s DNA. People don’t live by them, nor are business decisions made in accordance to them. This renders values useless. It’s like allowing a soccer player to take the ball in his hands and run for the goal.


A higher purpose demands even more — to fundamentally rethink why the company exists. To access the power of purpose, the answer cannot be to make money, but must be about a wider impact the company decides to make and, once defined, to align everything — every product, every decision — to that purpose. Eventually, every important process — from hiring to meetings — must reflect the higher purpose and the values of the organization. 


Building a purpose culture cannot be done half-way. It requires leaders to have the courage and commitment to go all the way.


For every organization, this challenge is around the corner. How do you decide to meet it?

Peter Matthies
The Conscious Business Institute