Together we’ll design your next-gen work environment.
Moving up the challenge curve and accelerating your growth requires a redesign of the work environment. The near term will likely be a hybrid model and making smart investments now will create the best foundation for a long-term solution.
You need to do three things right now:
Build a vision for the future of your work environment that leverages what you’ve learned during this forced experiment.
Make critical decisions for investment dollars and resource allocation that take you to reimagined future of work.
Align to a strategy that leverages you up and out of the Challenge Curve as the environment continues to evolve.
We Have a Solution. Let’s Talk.
Contact Us: Hello@karrikinsgroup.com
Rex Brooking | Chick-Fil-A
Leading Through Times of Crisis
Click Below to Download the Full Transcript of Mr. Brooking’s Interview:
The greatest WHY, and the best WHAT fail without an aligned HOW.
Alignment is a key predictor of success.
In today’s increasingly interconnected world. Internally, misalignment creates friction, inefficiency, and conflict. Externally, it causes missed opportunities to innovate, deliver to customers, and grow market share.
Transformation starts with leadership. Aligning to HOW you lead together as a team matters because leaders have the most significant influence on an organization.
Accelerating transformation requires leaders aligned to the HOW, because where leaders
go, so will the organization. Many organizations spend the majority of their time and money
defining their WHY and their WHAT. However, if leaders are unable to define HOW, they will
struggle to align and deliver exceptional results.
Alignment is hard because it requires a leadership team to
Challenge preconceived notions of power and success
step out of social norms and cultural norms
disappoint people on your team because transformation will deconstruct their career path
going first, exemplifying how to align thinking and action
The discipline of alignment
Alignment discipline comes through learning how to gain and maintain alignment to shared
objectives and goals. It requires a willingness to go first as a leader, to create clarity, and to
make different decisions that drive new outcomes.
HOW is the missing link. The greatest WHY and the best WHAT fail without an aligned HOW.
We believe the most important thing to focus on is HOW you lead together – the shared
team commitments for working as an aligned team.
Maybe you just walked out of a meeting and didn’t feel like you had a conversation. Maybe it felt like all of the oxygen in the room was being taken up by one person, or maybe it felt like a list of dictates from the person with the most positional power, or maybe it felt like the same circular conversation you’ve been showing up to every week. These kinds of conversations can feel ineffective and inefficient, and just plain frustrating. What’s a person to do?
Choosing to create or intentionally show up to a Purposeful Conversation feels different because you are taking an active role in collective sense-making and engaging in useful debate toward a common goal. It takes practice to be fully present in a conversation and to role model behaviors that allow for collective decision making or problem solving to develop.
Below are five ways to create the conditions for a Purposeful Conversation.
1. Set The Conditions
Who’s running this show? Take time to define who is keeping the meeting on track and who is responsible for taking action after the meeting. Defined roles help everyone to know their time is important and that there will be follow-up afterwards. Share the intention for your time together and the desired outcome for the conversation.
2. Ask Curious Questions
Hear or here? It is much easier to participate in a conversation where everyone is using the same words to mean the same things. Asking genuine, curiosity-driven questions such as “will you help me understand” and “tell me more” will drive better results rather than defensive questions that shut down the conversation. Focus on listening to understand, not listening to reply (i.e. listen, pause, reflect, then respond.)
3. Engage in Joint Sense-Making
Lecture, lecture, lecture…yawn… Focusing on opening the space for dialogueand creating an opportunity for clarifying questions to be asked gives everyonethe chance to make sense of what’s being discussed. This may feel like it will take more time, but the result is that everyone can connect the dots and see the bigger picture. And sometimes it may not be the right time or place, but when necessary, make sure it happens.
4. End Endless Debates
The Neverending Story was a great movie, but even that came to an end. There is nothing more frustrating than endless debates that never conclude. First, take the time to be clear about who in the conversation has a voice and who has a vote. Second, own the fact that you may be the one keeping the debate going. Third, if it’s your decision, be effective at ending the debate. Ask for your colleagues’ input and then let the group know that you will be making a decision at the end of the meeting.
5. Solve the Avoided
Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It takes courage to confront hard problems or call out misaligned behaviors with professionalism. Collective problem solving requires addressing often undiscussed issues. You have the opportunity to role model new ways of bringing uncomfortable topics into conversation.
Start with self and remember that you can create the conversations that will be most in service to you, your team, and your organization.
At the end of the day, you only have control over your own behavior and an opportunity to influence the conditions that create a Purposeful Conversation. If you are the host of a meeting, experiment with one of these five ways. As a participant, be mindful of how you are showing up. In meetings where other people impede effectiveness, follow up with them privately. Start with Self and remember that you can create the conversations that will be most in service to you, your team, and your organization.
About the Author: Kate Huckabay, MA Consultant, Karrikins Group
As a practitioner of Start with Self, Kate has been having Purposeful Conversations with senior leaders for more than a decade. Many of these conversations have focused on leveraging employee strengths, creating value for customers, developing relationships, innovating internal processes, personal leadership, and social justice. Her social justice work includes using theater as a forum for solving the avoided. As a consultant with Karrikins Group, Kate delivers client projects including facilitation, design, and workshop execution. Kate loves working on and with teams, is ever curious about the human experience, and is dedicated to collective and individual growth.
Contributors: Julie Williamson, PhD Chief Growth Enabler, Karrikins Group
Julie works with clients and colleagues to create conversations that produce value. Her work with executives and their teams is focused on closing the gap between agreement and alignment while driving positive business results. Julie loves seeing groups come together to deliver in powerful ways that exceed the capabilities of any one member.
Contact Us: For more information, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to talk with you about how we could inspire your leaders to lead and join Purposeful Conversations and deliver amazing results for your organization.
It is rare to hear someone say that they are looking forward to a meeting (virtual or in-person). It is even rarer to hear someone say that they enjoyed a meeting. And the reality is that so much of our professional time is spent attending meetings, preparing for meetings, and scheduling more meetings to prepare for and attend. Understanding the difference between various types of meetings, and then being intentional about how to host or be a participant will enable greater meeting effectiveness and, ideally, more enjoyment as well.
THE SPECTRUM OF MEETINGS: INFORMING TO RESOLVING
Meetings typically fall along the spectrum of informing (e.g. status, 1:1) to co-creation (e.g. ideation, problem solving) to resolving (e.g. prioritization, decision making).
Informing meetings are primarily focused on communicating information one-way.
Co-creation meetings are an opportunity to create something that doesn’t exist today.
Resolving meetings are intended to conclude with decisions and clarity on next steps.
And most meetings include aspects of all three types. Being mindful of the various aspects can feel challenging. Fortunately, we can do things to make it less challenging.
CREATE THE CONDITIONS FOR EFFECTIVE MEETINGS
To create the conditions for effective meetings the following need to be cared for:
Have clarity on the purpose and outcome of the meeting
Be thoughtful about the environmental factors
Set participant expectations
Be intentional about your energy and behavior
Determine the outcome for the meeting and then work backwards to account for the environmental factors, participant mindsets, and your personal behavior. For example, if the intended outcome is to broadcast information then you can strive to use clear and consistent language, tell participants that they are expected to take notes and not participate, and schedule the meeting in a room with enough space for everyone to be comfortable.
Having clarity on the purpose and outcome is essential for hosting or participating in an effective and enjoyable meeting.
PROBLEMATIC MEETINGS MADE EASIER
We know three types of meetings are typically problematic: status meetings, ideation meetings, and prioritization meetings.
SUCCESS PRACTICES FOR HOSTING STATUS MEETINGS
Status meetings are primarily about informing and they may include some aspects of co-creation and resolving. Status meetings can also feel quite tedious.
To host an effective status meeting:
Take ownership for keeping track of the time and for moving through the agenda.
Send a pre-set agenda so that everyone, who is giving a status update, can contribute prior to the meeting.
Set participant expectations by asking people to come prepared and include time in the agenda for open questions to ensure that all voices are heard.
Bring an attitude of gratitude for all the work that everyone has been doing and be sure to acknowledge the importance of having regular meetings that keep the team informed.
SUCCESS PRACTICES FOR HOSTING IDEATION MEETINGS
Ideation meetings can feel disorganized and lacking in follow-through.
Ideation meetings are most effective when:
They are facilitated by a member of the team whose role is at the enterprise level or someone who has influence over the big picture, and who can move the group through a series of exercises to leverage the brain power in the room.
A mix of people who bring different perspectives and who will be impacted by the initiative are invited.
An email is sent prior to the meeting that states a clear objective and desired outcome and asks participants to contribute robustly and freely.
Space is created for participants to feel comfortable idea-storming. One way to do this is to explicitly state that no decisions will be made during this time, but rather that this is an opportunity to spark new ideas and thinking.
They are scheduled in the morning, in a room with natural light, and include enough space for people to move around and work in small groups.
Include both individual thinking time and group thinking time. Providing sticky notes or notecards for people to write their thoughts down, relative to specific prompts, as the meeting progresses helps the facilitator to do real-time synthesis.
The host takes time to define who is responsible for taking action after the meeting as well as spends time at the end of the meeting to discuss ways that communication could be improved next time. Naming, without blame or judgement, the group dynamics or communication challenges will enable participants to take ownership of their behaviors and equip them to show up differently next time.
SUCCESS PRACTICES FOR HOSTING PRIORITIZATION MEETINGS
Prioritization meetings can be hi-jacked by circular conversations and it can be hard work to align around a path forward and know who owns a decision.
Watch-outs and ways to host an effective prioritization meeting:
Identity and attachment can bias team member’s contributions and get in the way of priorities. It takes courage to be honest about what gets in the way of reallocating resources and to balance work that is already in progress.
Often, everyone is willing to say ‘no’, and in prioritization meetings, participants need to be willing to say ‘yes.’
The expectation needs to be set that a decision will be made, and everyone needs to commit – even if they disagree. Participants need to understand that they can disagree and still commit.
Determine and communicate who at the table has a voice and who has a vote. This will help everyone know the role they are expected to play.
Focus on opening the space for dialogue and create an opportunity for clarifying questions to be asked in order to give everyone the chance to make sense of what’s being discussed. This may feel like it will take more time, but the result is that everyone can connect the dots and see the bigger picture.
In order to end circular conversations, own the fact that you may be the one keeping the debate going and if it’s your decision, be effective at ending the debate.
Consciously choose to discuss the important but undiscussed issues and be open to constructive dissent.
Share an agenda in advance and include time in the agenda for open questions.
Use cognitive ques at the beginning and end of the meeting to provide a real-time mechanism for peer accountability like, “At the end of this meeting, a win looks like…” and “What were the decisions made or not made? How are we going to communicate any decisions made?” – this ensures that everyone is on the same page.
Back to basics, having clarity about the purpose and outcome of the meeting will help determine which type of meeting to host and which techniques will be most effective. Intentionality is key to clear communication and effective teaming. As you become more proficient at hosting meetings you will become more effective at curating the most conducive environment, managing participant expectations, and demonstrating behaviors that are in service to your teams and your organization. Effective meetings are necessary to successfully lead transformation together.
(Denver, Colorado, March 18, 2019) Karrikins Group, a global behavior change firm, celebrates its Community Investment Strategy (CIS) team as they join international professional services firm EY, effective March 1. The sale will broaden the social impact reach created by CIS and will allow Karrikins Group to focus on its core work with global companies seeking to accelerate growth.
Prior to the sale, Karrikins Group operated as two independent practices: Business Growth Solutions (BGS), headquartered in Denver, Colorado, USA, and Community Investment Solutions (CIS), headquartered in Sydney, Australia. Moving forward, BGS will be known simply as Karrikins Group
Founder and Group CEO Peter Sheahan said: “We started Karrikins Group with the bold ambition to change the world in two ways: by sparking growth within businesses and social impact within communities. While we continue to be passionate about community impact programs, we have found the most rapid, catalytic change comes from healthy private sector organizations. We believe that businesses are the most powerful vehicle for lasting transformative change. This move allows us to unequivocally focus on serving these entities through the most senior leaders to drive growth through disruption and transformation.”
Global leaders recognize the need to be agile with the ever-increasing speed of change, yet establishing new ways of working remains a top challenge. Companies that successfully grow through disruption and transformation have discovered that the key is alignment.
Karrikins Group President Bruce Siegel said: “EY’s acquisition is a great opportunity for our CIS colleagues and I couldn’t be prouder of all they have accomplished. Within Karrikins Group, we believe businesses are a catalyst for moving the world forward and we have found creating alignment within these organizations is a key predictor of success. Too often leaders mistake agreement with alignment. The gap between the two is where we believe great ambitions fail to deliver. Moving forward, we are excited to devote our full energies to bridge this gap – to move leaders from agreement to alignment, create clarity, and build accountability in pursuit of accelerated and lasting transformational change.”
Karrikins: a group of compounds found in the smoke of burning plants that catalyze growth.
Karrikins Group is a global behavior change company that moves organizations towards greater growth and impact. We do this in two essential ways:
– Engaging with executive teams to create clarity, commitment, and connection in alignment to a shared aspiration for continual growth.
– Designing curated, catalytic experiences that disrupt the status quo and inspire the soul to manifest in action.
*EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. For more information about the organization, please visit ey.com
This article was originally published on skipprichard.com. Dr. Julie Williamson, Chief Growth Enabler, wrote the article as a guest author. Below is a preview of the article.
Recently I sat in a meeting with the CEO of a $1B+ company, together with all of his senior leaders, a team of around 12 people. The CEO, Kevin (I’ve changed his name for the sake of confidentiality), was frustrated beyond belief with his team because he wasn’t seeing the behaviors he wanted from them, especially when it came to reporting on their respective businesses.
Kevin sat at the head of the table and gave very specific and detailed instructions about what he wanted to see every month. Then he looked around the table and asked, “Have I made myself perfectly clear?”
Heads nodded slowly in agreement. Yes, he had made himself perfectly clear. It was also perfectly clear to me, based on the body language I was seeing around the room, that while he had been understood, that’s as far as it went. He had not achieved anyone’s agreement that the requirements were something they were willing to do, alignment from the team members that they would shift their behaviors to meet those requirements, or a belief that his demand was something that would be useful or meaningful to them. Clear as he was, he was not going to see the results he wanted.
If you feel like you are being clear, but you aren’t seeing results from your team, there are four areas to consider as continuums…
We just returned from a trip to North America where the Head of Community at a major financial institution was sharing their frustration at the disjuncture between their corporate purpose and community investment. While the company had a freshly-minted purpose statement that was both directive and compelling, she was being asked to continue investing in a legacy community investment portfolio that, though worthy, was not in any way aligned to the purpose or strategy of the business.
This question will resonate with many of our clients and partners as much as it does with us – after all, we have for many years worked to maximise the business value and social impact of community investment.
Our view is that CSR broadly, and community investment specifically, should be a living, breathing manifestation of the purpose of your business. There are a few reasons for this:
Unlike other parts of the business that tend to come under intense, reporting-cycle based pressure to produce immediate results, CI often can take a longer view and be at least a little insulated from these pressures
CI is normally the place with the most obvious connection to social good, so it tends to be easier to manifest purpose in a way that is emotionally compelling
Purpose is the answer to the question: “Over and above making money, why does our organisation exist?” The answer to this question is typically an aspiration about the impact the company wants to have on the world, and CI is directly about the same thing. So, the CI department is often filled with people with the passion, expertise, and savvy to bring purpose to life in a truly meaningful way.
But despite the natural fit between CI and purpose, in many companies we’ve spoken to CI is not particularly aligned to the purpose of the company.
We see three common causes of this problem.
LEADERS LACK STRATEGIC AGREEMENT
We frequently encounter organizations with a lack of agreement (and often alignment), at a strategic level, about the value that CI is trying to create. For instance, we recently facilitated a conversation between senior executives at a large property firm and the CEO, CFO, Head of Customer and Head of HR (who shared responsibility for community investment) had never even articulated, let alone agreed, on precisely what they were hoping to achieve through their CI, or how CI would support their enterprise strategy. With such a lack of clarity, alignment will be nearly impossible
PURPOSE-ALIGNMENT IS CONFUSED WITH SIMPLY ‘DOING GOOD’
We have noticed both business and CI leaders who hold the impression that if CI is already ‘doing good’ and ‘making a difference’, that alone is enough. In fact, in some places, there appears to be a genuine confusion that purpose-alignment and ‘doing good’ are the same thing. The result of this is that many companies create an independent CI agenda, complete with its own ‘mini-purpose’ that is not the same as the purpose of the business. This agenda often amounts to investment in specific social issues, charities or causes that do not further the company’s purpose or drive its strategy.
This is not to say that such CI portfolios lack any form of strategy (for instance, they could entail a highly strategic approach to solving a social problem), but rather that their strategies are not aligned to the business strategy.
PURPOSE IS BEING OUTSOURCED
Finally, it is still common to find organisations who effectively outsource the job of CI alignment to third-party community organisations. That is, they largely build their CI portfolios by selecting charity partners whose activities are broadly thematically aligned to the company’s purpose in the hope that that will ‘count’ as purpose alignment. In a well-intentioned attempt to manifest their company’s purpose they give their partners cash, rather than creating co-designed, co-owned or curated activities that directly drive strategy and manifest purpose.
The shame in all these cases is that companies lose a valuable asset that can help drive purpose, and CI sacrifices its chance to elevate its strategic criticality to the business.
HOW CAN LEADERS BRING PURPOSE TO LIFE THROUGH COMMUNITY INVESTMENT?
The path to purpose alignment can be a challenging one, but also represents an exciting opportunity. Leaders in CI and CSR who bring purpose to life through their community investments have the chance to make a genuine and powerful difference in the community, while also delivering real returns for their companies.
Take a moment and reflect on your own community investment strategy and portfolio.
Are they aligned to your company’s purpose in a meaningful way?
Do they represent a commitment to purpose-alignment that goes beyond cash grants and donations, to co-design of carefully designed programs that bring your purpose to live through your community investments?
This is part of our Karrikins Brief series on Purpose-Alingment. Tap into the power of aligning operations, strategy, and culture to a compelling and directive purpose.
Do you know where the word kangaroo comes from?
According to one story, two Australian explorers came across the iconic biped for the first time and asked a local Aboriginal man “What on earth is that creature?”. Their answer – “Kangaroo”. “Too easy!” the explorers thought and proceeded on their journey with a little more knowledge under their belt.
The only problem is that “kangaroo” means “I don’t understand you” in the local Aboriginal tongue!
It turns out this anecdote is more fiction than fact, but we find truth in the idea that miscommunication can emerge in almost any setting. This thought resonates deeply with us, as we are often seeing organisations with the best intentions missing the mark with their customers and stakeholders. Just like the kangaroo fable, we believe one culprit for this miscommunication is often the absence of clarity, specifically when organizations are grappling with their purpose.
CONNECTING THE DOTS BETWEEN MESSAGE AND PURPOSE
I want you to take a moment to reflect on how your company talks about purpose.
How does your company talk around purpose internally?
How does your company express their purpose to the market?
Would you describe this messaging as clear and consistent?
Now take another moment and think about what your company is doing.
Where is your company investing money? What products are they developing?
What activities would you say best embody your company’s purpose?
Can you see a clear line of sight between what your company is doing, and how they are talking about purpose?
If drawing this connection was difficult for you, you probably aren’t the only one struggling to connect the dots. Without a clear, compelling expression of purpose (though both words and action) stakeholders inside and outside are forced to make assumptions when it comes to purpose, diluting the strength and persuasiveness of a clearly expressed purpose. If people don’t know what you stand for, how can they stand with you?
LEGO’S REDISCOVERY OF PURPOSE
One company who has achieved true alignment between their purpose and their brand promise is LEGO. LEGO’s purpose is clear and compelling – “to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”.
Purpose is central to every business decision that LEGO makes; Vice President Peter Kim calls purpose their “north star”, the light which guides both their messaging and their activities in the market. By letting their purpose guide both their messaging and business activities, LEGO expresses their purpose with clarity, helping them connect with stakeholders to deliver on this purpose in the real world through their brand experience.
At this point you might be asking “Why does LEGO care so much about letting their purpose guide them?”
Because not following their purpose almost bankrupted the company.
Despite being Denmark’s most iconic brand, LEGO was on the brink of going bust at the turn of the century – in the early 2000’s, LEGO was losing $1 million a day. Former CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp (now Chairman of the Board of the LEGO Brand Group) was given a monumental task – bring the company back from the brink of bankruptcy.
As Knudstorp took up the mantle of leadership, he went on a personal journey to discover what made LEGO unique in the eyes of their customers and stakeholders. The answer? It boiled down to LEGO’s ability to create empowering building experiences through their products. As Knudstorp said during the times of LEGO’s financial struggles:
“We had a huge number of people writing to us saying how much the brand meant to them. That convinced me we could survive, and the brand would survive. We were just poor managers of the brand”
What did he mean by being poor brand managers? He meant that LEGO had moved away from producing products that empower people to create. In other words, they were no longer aligned to their purpose.
What did this misalignment look like for LEGO? There were typical examples of overdiversification away from the classic brick; producing clothing lines, opening theme parks, and producing several video game series.
The one example of misalignment that really stood out to us though; LEGO started producing and selling pre-assembled toys. How can you inspire children to build by selling them something preconstructed?
Knudstorp had the same question, and came to quite a radical conclusion, LEGO had lost the clarity of purpose that had captured the imagination of multiple generations of past builders.
SOLVING IDENTITY CRISIS THROUGH CLARITY OF PURPOSE
Expressing oneself clearly is a problem we all struggle with, and organisations are no different. How does a company overcome this then? In LEGO’s case, their path was taking a scattered unfocused portfolio of services and products, and trimming until there was a clear line of sight between every product, purpose and message to their stakeholders.
This process wasn’t an easy one; Knudstorp had to make tough, deliberate choices about what LEGO retained and what they discarded. Hundreds of products, services and jobs were cut, to increase cash flow and reduce company bloat. Brick design policies were reimagined; every brick now needed to be modular and multipurpose (those ninja blades? They were windscreen wipers in another set). Longstanding partnerships with companies like Shell were cut, and even LEGOLAND, their iconic series of theme parks was sold off in pursuit of purpose alignment.
Finding clarity in their purpose wasn’t only cutting the old, it was also finding the new. LEGO developed new partnerships with the WWF in a mission towards sustainability, to ensure that children “can dream of and build exotic and natural worlds both old and new” now and into the future. They opened “Lego House” in Denmark, an immersive playground that helps children to develop core social competencies during their youth. Most recently, LEGO released LEGO Life – a youth social networking platform where children can share and celebrate their unique LEGO creations, which helps inspire the builders of tomorrow through digital mediums. These new activities all have a clear line of sight to the company’s purpose of inspiring children to build and imagine.
This process of reclarifying their purpose was bold, difficult and painful. But guess what? It paid off.
Customers also connect with LEGO’s clearly expressed purpose – consumers consider LEGO the 2nd most reputable company in the world. Reputation Institute (founders of RepTrak Global 100) attribute LEGO’s stellar reputation to their alignment to purpose, being a company “whose products are in complete alignment with its values on societal contribution and business transparency.”
LEGO’s journey is a great example of purpose alignment driving business success. By reconnecting with their reason for being, LEGO were able to rebuild the clear line of sight between their purpose, their brand and their products. Through clarifying their messaging and aligning to purpose, they have recaptured the imagination of a new generation of builders.
If your company is struggling with articulating their purpose, here are some thought starters that you can bring to your next discussion.
Could you tell somehow who had never heard of your company how each of your products align to your company’s purpose?
Could you explain your company’s purpose exclusively through what activities they are currently investing in?
In the pursuit of purpose alignment, would your company be courageous enough to sell off a product as iconic as LEGOLAND?
This is part of our Karrikins Brief series on Purpose-Alingment. Tap into the power of aligning operations, strategy, and culture to a compelling and directive purpose.
Many companies use a concept of purpose to market their products without ever actually doing anything internally to authentically deliver on it.
Purpose alignment is about ensuring that mindsets, behaviors, and environments are set to deliver on the impact you want to have in your community, your industry, your business, and with your employees. It guides decision making at all levels of the organization and provides a way to hold people accountable to appropriate behaviors and outcomes.
Consider the following 10 questions to help determine if your organization is purpose-aligned.
If your purpose is not clearly stated, think about what you believe it to be or think about the following questions in terms of your mission or vision.
Add up how many checkmarks you have in each column.
7 or more ‘Yes’ responses? You are well on your way to purpose-alignment as an organization! It is likely that your senior leaders are thinking about purpose when they make key decisions, and that people more broadly are connected to the purpose as a guide for their own behavior.
7 or more ‘Yes’ or ‘Maybe’ responses combined? Your purpose may be well crafted and make sense organizationally, but it may not be front of mind for people when they are making decisions about how to run your business internally.
4 or more ‘No’ responses? It is likely that your purpose was developed as a marketing or communications exercise, and it is used more for external brand positioning with customers and prospective employees than it is for internal decision making.
A mixed bag? You likely have a purpose that people know and agree with and that does well for you externally, but it may not be serving you well internally in terms of guiding behavior and decision making.
Purpose is a powerful tool for creating a sense of connection and common ground for employees, it expands the impact that an organization has in its communities, markets, and customers, and, when done well, it benefits shareholders and drive growth. Don’t settle for purpose as a marketing asset – bring it to life through leadership alignment and make the most of what it can do for your organization.
Thank you for reading on. This article is part of a series on purpose-alignment. We dive deeper into the research, concepts, and thinking in the following whitepaper — ‘Purpose-Aligned Leadership: From Purpose Driven to Driving Purpose,’ click here to learn more.
Purpose is having a moment in the business world. The collective impact of organizations as social actors has never been more important than in our social-media driven news cycles, where unsavory or illegal behavior is quickly circulated. Even unintended consequences of well-intended actions can bring swift consumer reaction. In an increasingly complicated world where market reactions are amplified, your customers need to know and believe in what you stand for as a business. Having a clearly stated purpose that drives leadership behavior is one way to both steer in the right direction and mitigate mishaps. It also helps attract and retain employees who are committed to your brand and leads to a better world for all. What’s not to love about it?
It turns out, there are a few things to not love about purpose in the business environment. At the top of the list is that it requires executives to change their behavior in meaningful ways. A close second is that it introduces the very real risk of being perceived as hypocritical is you aren’t perfect at delivering your purpose.
We have noticed in our work that there are two kinds of organizations. First, there are those we call ‘purpose-hawkers.’ They treat purpose as a marketing exercise, full of words and cool videos to convince the market that they are about more than profit. But behind the scenes, leaders are still doing exactly what they’ve always done, and actual delivery of the purpose is far from anyone’s mind.
The second kind of organization we see is ‘purpose aligned.’ In a purpose aligned organization leaders hold themselves and other accountable to behaving in ways that brings the purpose to life. They make decisions that actively deliver on the short- and long-term goals embedded in the purpose.
When it comes to words and actions, Matshona Dhilwayo puts it bluntly: “It is lightning that strikes, not thunder.” Making a difference in the world takes action, not just words. So how do you make your purpose lightning, not just rumbling thunder that may or may not deliver?
Purpose-hawking is the thunder. It happens when an organization uses its purpose primarily as marketing – to generate good public relations, without meaningfully shaping behavior. Purpose-hawking reduces a call for meaningful impact into a pithy slogan.
At Karrikins Group, we contrast purpose-hawking with purpose-alignment, where employees at every level of an organization see a clear line from the topline purpose to their daily work – the paycheck to purpose connection. In these organizations, purpose places clear boundaries on what products to develop or what social responsibility initiative to fund, it inspires employee value propositions, and it creates a clear through-line for operations, brand, and investment strategies. It also guides the behavior and decision making of leaders in the organization in meaningful ways.
It is easy to let the Marketing department come up with a purpose statement and use it in brand conversations. Aligning to purpose is hard, and frankly, many leaders aren’t inspired or incented to do it. Often, the demands of achieving short-term results or delivering on a customer commitment or beating a competitor to a market take priority over staying in alignment with purpose.
It is easy to settle for purpose-hawking, right up until it becomes very, very hard. Purpose-hawking is a precarious state: because the commitment to purpose is a shallow one, it is easily subsumed within larger decisions. When those decisions then result in poor behavior in the market, with customers, or towards employees, the damage can be exponential as the ripples quickly become tidal waves.
WHEN MARKET AMBITION TRUMPS PURPOSE
To get an idea of what purpose-hawking can look like in real life, consider the case of Volkswagen. Volkswagen was founded by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche in the early 1930s. His purpose was to enhance people’s lives through great engineering, and his vision was a ‘People’s Car,’ something everyday people could afford. He brought the automobile to the masses in many ways sooner than Ford with his assembly line practices.
In the mid-2000s Volkswagen, which includes luxury brand Audi, was the 4th largest carmaker in the world. In 2007 the chair of Audi, Martin Winterkorn, became the CEO of Volkswagen and set an ambitious goal: to become the world’s largest auto manufacturer by 2018.
Winterkorn’s goal became a rally cry that thundered across the company. For VW, many structural factors worked against VW’s growth goals, mainly environmental regulations on their emissions in the U.S. and Europe. Winterkorn’s growth obsession did not allow for a serious investment in research on electric or hybrid drivetrains, so he instead focused the company on building its diesel engines, which can get much better mileage than gasoline.
American diesel at the time had a much higher sulfur content than European diesel. California’s stringent air quality rules – imposed to reduce the infamous Los Angeles smog and copied by several other states – made diesel cars difficult to buy and register in the largest car market in America. Around the same time Winterkorn directed VW to prioritize the build-out of diesel cars in America, he also signed a signed a technology sharing agreement with Mercedes-Benz to use their new “BluTec” system to capture and sequester NOx emissions. Once this agreement was in place, VW began marketing heavily on Clean TDI technology.
They announced to the world that they cared, earnestly, about the environmental problems of diesel emissions and wanted to help environmental conservation while building more fuel-efficient vehicles – a laudable goal anyone could support. And, it aligned to Porsche’s original purpose – enhancing people’s lives through great engineering. It felt like a home run – a business goal that delivered on the founder’s dreams.
And this worked! Over the eight years that followed Winterkorn’s announcement, Volkswagen managed to become the world’s largest automaker by sales volume in 2016 – two years ahead of schedule. Volkswagen’s build quality, driving dynamics, and design choices were praised. Iconic models like the GTI routinely topped auto journalists’ lists as high-value cars to own.
Unfortunately, the leaders of Volkswagen were not aligned to the purpose. Instead, they were blinded by the business goal, and began using their commitment to the environment to hawk their purpose without delivering on it day-to-day. Over a series of critical junctures, key decisions were made by the most senior leaders in the company to bypass the emissions testing systems in order to meet their aggressive sales goals in the United States.
The promises of Clean TDI technology created a paradox for Volkswagen: the value-proposition for diesel engines is better mileage. Clean TDI requires spraying unburned fuel into the exhaust, which reduces the high gas mileage that made new diesels so appealing. But without this process, emissions are unacceptably high.
Volkswagen executives decided to install ‘defeat device’ software that could detect when the vehicle was being tested for emissions. Under normal driving, their engines released would not spray unburned fuel into the exhaust, keeping mileage high. When the vehicles were checked for emissions during an inspections process, the car would allow unburned fuel to enter the exhaust, keeping them in compliance with the law. As a result, 11 million VW diesel customers were burning up to 40 times the legally allowable amount of NOx per mile of driving while passing emissions tests.
In summary, the executives made decisions that:
Lied to consumers through branding that emphasized environmental concern
Intentionally bypassed critical emissions tests
Unequivocally failed to deliver on enhancing people’s lives through engineering
In the aftermath, the company has faced astonishing losses. VW has paid more than $30 billion dollars in fines, settlements, and remediation. So far more than 30,000 workers have been laid off. Several managers and engineers have been imprisoned. In May, 2018, Winterkorn was indicted by the U.S. government for fraud. Everything that came out about the emissions scandal was compounded by the degree to which Volkswagen had marketed a commitment to environmental sustainability as part of their value in the world – an extension of their purpose.
It is hard to speculate what might have happened if the executives at Volkswagen had held themselves accountable to their founding purpose. They may have missed their market domination goal, but it is safe to assume they would not have had catastrophic losses to the value of the firm. This is the risk of purpose – when you fail, it can be catastrophic, and delivering can mean delaying business goals in order to stay in alignment.
WHEN PURPOSE SPARKS ALIGNED BEHAVIOR
Aligning behind a purpose is not easy. For VW it would have meant delaying their quest to become the biggest car company in the world and doing the hard work of developing Clean TDI to a point where it authentically reduced emissions and delivered high mileage.
Alignment requires daily decisions that might cost time and money – and could work at odds to a quarterly reporting cycle. However, the willingness to do the hard work to commit to a purpose and align the entire organization builds trust and creates long-term value for stakeholders.
Consider Hancock Whitney Holdings, a small bank operating in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina bore down on their Gulfport, MS, headquarters, which processed corporate operations, check-processing, loan servicing, and credit transactions, they followed their disaster plan and send backups of their systems to off-site centers. The company decided that their branches would be the last close to maximize the chances that their customers could carry out any transactions (mostly withdrawals) before it became impossible.
The hurricane hit to devastating effect. Their headquarters building, a 17-story building along the coast, was gutted by a 4-foot wall of water that inundated the area. A tornado spun off the main storm, which ripped the roof off their building and blew glass, roofing materials, and furniture through the windows (more than 1,300 of which were destroyed). The interior of their headquarters was flooded with salt water sprayed by the storm, which shorted anything electrical and began corroding every piece of metal inside. There was no power, no internet, no phone service. More than half of their branches throughout the region were damaged or destroyed, 20% of their employees lost everything, and thousands faced catastrophic damage to their homes.
Yet, Hancock opened every available branch of its operations the day after the storm left. Their decision to move their data back-ups off-site helped: within days the bank was processing transactions normally from a rented mainframe computer facility in Chicago. But their decision to open their branches locally proved more problematic: with no power and no internet, how can you responsibly operate a bank and handle cash transactions?
This is where Hancock Whitney’s purpose becomes meaningful. Founded in 1899, the founders of the bank articulated their company’s reason for being: “Provide financial services to our communities to facilitate commerce and create opportunities for people.” This purpose, written 120 years ago, is so powerful and simple, it has never needed to be changed or updated. It has, however, been revisited many times, and leaders and staff throughout the bank were very familiar with it.
Hancock’s purpose is what guided their decisions around Hurricane Katrina. Looking at the storm, it was clear they could not provide financial services to the community, facilitate commerce, or create opportunities for people if they remained closed until the power and internet came back.
The 69,900 residents of Gulfport who survived needed to be able to acquire and spend money if the region was going to recover, and no one knew how long it would take for help from the outside to arrive. Credit or debit cards don’t work without electricity, so bank employees decided to get physical currency back into circulation as quickly as possible. They located their own ATMs (many of which had been moved by the storm) and handwashed the salty, sand-crusted bills inside, ironed them flat, and set up micro-branches on the street: folding chairs and tables, with clipboards and paper to create hand-drawn ledger tables.
Hancock provided homemade IOUs out of sticky notes and handed out up to $200 so long as people signed the post-it notes for documentation. They handed out nearly $50 million in cash this way. It was a huge risk, taken in alignment with their purpose, and in the end, all but $200,000 eventually was paid back.
Crucial to Hancock’s purpose is that it does not explicitly mention the pursuit of profit. And the risk they took on in handing out cash after the storm, to serve their community even if it meant risking huge amounts of cash, was fully aligned to the purpose, not to any short-term revenue or market goals.
The risk paid off. Hancock’s business grew by $1.9 billion dollars by the end of 2005, and within five months the bank had signed up nearly 13,000 new accounts. By 2015 Hancock Whitney had grown to more than $20b in assets (when they rang the bell to open NASDAQ). Hancock’s purpose-alignment generated not just community impact, but enormous profit as well.
THE CASE FOR PURPOSE-ALIGNMENT
Purpose-alignment is not just a feel-good story. The leaders of Hancock were not thinking about their next quarterly report when they literally laundered $50 million to get a devastated community on its feet – they operated from their purpose, which was to provide financial services, facilitate commerce, and create opportunities for people. They made sure all the leaders in the company knew and understood the purpose, so when disaster struck, they naturally aligned their decisions and behavior to deliver on it. Aligning to their purpose even during unfathomable destruction created the astonishing growth they saw afterward.
In contrast, organizations like Volkswagen show how risky it is to park purpose in marketing. Growth to an arbitrary size (“bigger than the next guy”) is not a purpose. What does it matter if you’re the biggest if you are cheating your way there? Arbitrary growth targets may be exciting internally and for investors, but if they come at the expense of ethical behavior, they ultimately fail.
At Volkswagen, they talked a good game about reducing emissions and building great cars – the thunder was loud. In the end, though, it was just noise. This is typical of a purpose-hawking company. In contrast, Hancock Bank had a purpose that was clear enough to light up the sky, and the positive impact they had was the best kind of lightning in a community that had been struck a devastating blow. As you think about your own organization and how your leaders align to purpose (or don’t), do you hear thunder or see lightning?
Thank you for reading on. This article is part of a series on purpose-alignment. We dive deeper into the research, concepts, and thinking in the following whitepaper — ‘Purpose-Aligned Leadership: From Purpose Driven to Driving Purpose,’ click here to learn more.