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Leadership

Does Your Company's Purpose Resonate With Everyone, Or Just Senior Leaders?

If your own employees write off your shiny new mission statement as just another marketing trick, so will your customers.

Does Your Company's Purpose Resonate With Everyone, Or Just Senior Leaders?

[Photo: Flickr user Steve Soblick]

Discovering your company's "purpose" is tough. Sustaining it can be even tougher. Even if you've zeroed in on a mission that your executives love, it won't do your company much good if the rest of your team doesn't share the same sentiment.

Purpose Comes From Within And Without

The challenge is to make sure your entire organization is willing to buy into its stated purpose. The consulting firm Radley Yeldar, which ranks brands according to "social purpose," gives the top spot to Unilever for its sustainability efforts, among other causes beyond the company's bottom line to which it has shown commitment.

The fact is that not all of your employees will embrace your new values as readily as your executive team does.

Other big-name companies, though, have dropped noticeably on Radley Yeldar's annual list, like Johnson & Johnson (which settled a series of health care fraud cases this year for a record $2.2 billion) and Samsung (whose devices, from smartphones to washing machines, have been riddled with dangerous manufacturing problems). A company's failures in the marketplace can undermine how consumers understand its purpose. But there's more to it than that.

Purpose isn't just backing up a do-gooder marketing angle with action. A company's values—and subsequently its purpose—also come from its culture. For businesses trying to regain or redefine a sense of purpose, embedding new values into their cultures takes both top-down and bottom-up efforts. Brands that have seen a significant drop in their "purpose" rankings may have employees who simply don’t feel on board with their company's purpose, or just see it as another rebrand.

Timing Matters

So how does a brand, armed with a purpose, motivate its employees to also believe in that purpose—even when they aren’t as passionate about the idea? It's partly a timing thing.

The problem many companies face is figuring out how to incorporate purpose into a company’s culture without coming off as inauthentic. Try to rush the process, and it'll likely fail. Purpose is often abused by marketers who try to showcase a brand's supposed values superficially, rather than nurturing them internally to make sure they take root before launching the next campaign. Slapping a slogan on your website or printing off a series of ads that use a new catchphrase isn’t purpose-driven marketing.

In order to be successful, your entire organization—from your newest hire to your oldest associate—needs to live and breathe your mission. If a talented, capable employee finds that purpose to be just another boring corporate initiative, it's time to press pause and reevaluate. The fact is that not all of your employees will embrace your new values as readily as your executive team does. But it’s up to management to find ways to make that purpose relevant to those who may not share the same beliefs.

Unsurprisingly, one company found that simple transparency can help fend off some of these risks. Precision Software, a logistics solutions provider, recently introduced a newfound purpose into its organization, kicking off a company-wide initiative to get all of its employees involved. "In our industry, our ‘why’ is what differentiates us from our competitors," says Robert Clesi, VP of marketing and partners at Precision Software. That may not sound earth shattering or world saving, but that wasn't the point; excellence was simply the most authentic value the company arrived at. It didn't try to shoehorn in another one that didn't fit.

"We really did a lot of due diligence up front and made sure everyone, especially on the management side, bought into our purpose," Clesi explains. Well before sitting down with a marketing agency, Precision sent out several surveys to get an understanding of how employees and customers felt about the brand. By gathering feedback and taking the time to have those conversations, the company was able to craft a new mission statement that arose organically from within. And if someone wasn’t completely sold on Precision’s values, Clesi said management would sit down one-on-one to discuss that individual’s concerns and work toward a solution that satisfied both parties.

Tell Real Stories, Not Fables

If your team initially lacks that same enthusiasm your executives share, you may want to consider opening up a dialogue strictly around purpose.

In 2013, Forbes contributor Carine Gallo points out, Southwest Airlines deftly used storytelling in order to drum up that enthusiasm. The airline began to publish accounts of employees who were doing exemplary work in its monthly Southwest magazine, in effect offering public praise for excellent customer service. There's no doubt that this was also a marketing move, but it felt authentic both within the company and without, because its culture—and the employees who lived and breathed it—was now front and center.

But the effort wasn't just consumer facing. It ran in the opposite direction, too: Southwest also circulated internal corporate videos filled with real-life stories from actual Southwest customers to help employees visualize purpose in action. This helped the airline instill its brand values in every one of its employees while eliminating doubts that the effort was just a superficial corporate gambit.

"Purpose" only means something when your entire company is on board. Instead of pointing fingers at a broken corporate culture, try reexamining your organization's purpose—not just to discover if it's an effective marketing strategy, but to make sure it actually reflects what your team values and responds to.

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