The evidence base for positive culture change is now pointing in one direction - start with why, i.e. Purpose.
The Crusaders Rugby Team in Christchurch, New Zealand has one of the most elite performance cultures in the world. They are the most successful club rugby team on the planet. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks embedded in their training environment, to research just how they grew their culture and how they brought their purpose to life.
There were subsequent research visits to other elite environments such as the Navy Seals, London Business School and the LA Dodgers. Each afforded learning through a different performance lens. However, none of those high-performance settings were as far advanced in terms of culture or purpose as the one curated in Christchurch. The question those rugby players devoted time to answering better than the rest is simple; how do we grow and enrich our culture and bring our purpose to life?
Ironically, the win ratio for this rugby team appeared to be almost inconsequential. Winning wasn’t the foremost thought. Culture and purpose were cited as ‘their first competitors’. The gravity given and the time devoted to these concepts was significant.
It was inspiring to see how these hard-edged men navigated their way through concepts such as vision and values, using ‘real’ conversations to make these abstract terms meaningful. Most importantly, their culture influenced their behaviour at all levels, not just on the pitch but in the community and in their daily lives.
The direction was clear, ‘we’re all in this together and are committed to having a positive impact on the world around us’. This is a movement which ultimately gave rise to the mantra for the national team, ‘Better People Make Better All Blacks’.
When they correlate so strongly with success, it would seem logical that these techniques would be adopted in the business world.
Certainly in the last few years, the evidence base in support of culture transformation in the workplace has become more emphatic. Management guru John Kotter has shown how purposeful, value-driven companies with strong cultures outperform their counterparts in stock price by a factor of 12.
Last July, the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI) published a report assessing the culture of the main retail banks operating in this country. The CBI left the financial intuitions in no doubt that culture and shared purpose were now of primary importance. In January, BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink made headlines when he told his company CEOs that they would be expected to create not only profits, but also contribute to society .
Exemplar organisations such as ASOS, The Met Police in London and Cigna in the USA have blazed a trail. However, for the majority, culture and purpose have become terms so ubiquitous they seem almost meaningless. Every business nods sagely at their importance, but can they follow through and reap the reward?
It’s easy to become confused about the link between performance (how we are doing) and culture (how we do things around here). Between mission (the what) and vision (the where). Between purpose (our why) and values (our how). Indeed, mission, vision and values have been the traditional starting point for organisations but sometimes these can be just posters on a wall. The evidence base for positive culture change is now pointing in one firm direction - start with why, i.e. Purpose.
EY’s partnership with Simon Sinek and the development of the ‘Why Story Purpose Method’ begins by working top-down with business leaders to identify their personal purpose and align it to that of their organisation.
Leaders begin to draw on these aligned personal experiences to articulate the message consistently, in an authentic way to begin activating that purpose-led culture change within the organisation.
Embedding this purpose and moving the dial on culture through the business can then be pursued via levers such as modernising the performance management approach, learning and development, rewards and incentives etc. All of which shape behaviours and move cultural change at a behavioural level from the bottom-up.
Purpose-led culture change helps to generate connections and discretionary effort in a business. However, embarking on change for business purposes only misses the point entirely. Like the Crusaders, the aim is to unify around a purpose and grow the culture within the business, in order to make a positive impact first and foremost. The match results and the business outcomes will undoubtedly follow.