An executive of a large company recently confided to me that they were having trouble making their purpose ‘real’ for their people. In other words, the return on their comprehensive purpose transformation process is nowhere near its potential. This is a common problem, so how do companies gain greater traction with their purpose?
Apart from crafting a great purpose statement, the implementation plan needs a well rounded internal communications strategy, and drawing on these 7 story types will help:
1. THE ORIGIN STORY
This is the story that people need to hear over and over again so they know it off by heart. It’s the simple explanation of why your organisation has the purpose that it has.
If you drew heavily upon the founder’s journey then so be it – that’s a key part of the story; but if you didn’t, explain why your purpose statement is what it is. It could be, for example, related to your alignment with the sustainable development goals, key attributes of your company, a project that gave you unexpected insights, a rapid shift in customer needs or a moment of truth in adversity.
2. THE EXPERIENTIAL STORY
Imagine if every employee could relate a personal and positive story that came from living your corporate purpose? These stories have currency because they come from the heart. Don’t be shy in tracking them down and encouraging everyone to find and tell their own. The caveat here is that they must be genuine!
3. THE INTEGRATION STORY
People aren’t inspired by a purpose statement on its own – just ask some of Facebook’s current and former employees. Stories of how purpose is integrated into everyday policies, processes and practices reinforces a purpose-driven culture. For example, I know of a property company CEO who had certain social outcomes hard-coded into his KPIs by the board.
4. THE HUMILITY STORY
The social, economic and environmental factors you deal with in delivering your purpose can be very complex or messy, and implementation may not always run as smoothly as you would like. Communicating what happened, the learning from it and how it informed your response going forward demonstrates humility, and conditions your people for the realities of purpose-driven change.
5. THE INNOVATION STORY
Purpose is a goldmine for innovation and competitive advantage. Reframing its purpose as “a better world for pets” saw Mars Petcare innovate and expand beyond products into service offerings.
Medical products company, Becton Dickinson, observed needle stick injuries for health workers rising and invested billions in developing, scaling up and distributing needle-less injection systems. Today, this line of business accounts for about a quarter of its revenues. These types of innovation stories bring profit, performance and purpose together in an inspiring way!
6. THE STRATEGY STORY
Purpose can prevent you from making poor investment decisions too. The CEO of Grosvenor Estate noted that clarity of purpose led them to some specific investments they may not otherwise have made and, more importantly, played a role in wisely avoiding others.
Unpacking strategic decisions that have been guided by your purpose are informative, especially for your leadership group.
7. THE COLLABORATION STORY
The collaboration story details how your people and teams came together internally or with external partners to help deliver an aspect of your corporate purpose. It’s likely that you’ll need to work with new types of partners in new ways – which isn’t easy – and requires a deft hand.
Again, your people need to know these things.
MAKING IT REAL
Implementing corporate purpose has many dimensions and a range of story types help to educate, inform and role model the behaviours you seek. Purpose is an ongoing journey rather than a one or three year project, so it’s worth getting into the rhythm of these more nuanced forms of communication and storytelling. Inspiring and empowering people with your purpose is one of the greatest opportunities you’ll ever have and making it real with the right types of stories will bring it to life.
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Phil Preston is a purpose speaker, strategist and founder of The Business Purpose Project. He is also the author of Connecting Profit with Purpose and co-host of Corporate Conversations on Purpose.
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