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  • Writer's pictureDr Kiran Chitta

Corporate purpose: act yourself into new ways of thinking

Updated: Jun 4

In the last twenty five years, I have seen businesses invest huge amounts of time on the development and articulation of corporate purpose and values, and not invest enough time putting them into action.

Many companies and government agencies reach a point when they decide that the articulation of their purpose requires work or rework. They then often decide that this needs to emerge from a deep and extended soul searching process across their entire business, and that it also somehow needs to be a perfectly worded and poetic reflection of who they are.

Often they then appoint external agencies to help them create a new corporate statement of purpose. These experts can then take six months to a year with a team of creatives and consultants to come out with the end product, which is a a few lines that describe what the company believes is its purpose. Some of these statements read like poetry. One or even two years later, and perhaps a million dollars or so in expenditure down the track, the results from these efforts can and invariably do generate the desired outcome. There is a beautifully worded statement of purpose.

More often than not, this powerful, evocative statement gives no clues about what the company actually does, what it makes, or what services it provides.

Sound familiar?

I bet that within minutes you can easily find a few examples of corporate purpose statements which say virtually nothing. Such statements can also be subject to all kinds of issues.

The most common issue I have come across is that the people performing operational 'frontline' roles, say in a retail business, do not understand what the statement of purpose means, and how they are supposed to put it into action. The second most common issue is that the exercise becomes a marketing campaign, both internally and externally, rather than a way to orient the culture, drive strategic choices, inform ethical dilemmas, and shape the entire value chain of the business.

This makes the words, in effect, a feature of the corporate 'wallpaper' rather than part of its foundation. It makes sense to balance the money and time invested in developing clever, marketing-friendly, statements of purpose and values, with investment in reinforcing purposeful, values-led ways of working.

Frontline colleagues can help leaders identify when and how the organization's values and purpose are truly tested. It's the everyday experiences of employees and customers in the real world, which might in certain respects be beautifully mundane, which give a business an identity, not just its leaders or founders, their origin stories and fantasies. If your company predominantly makes beer, perhaps your purpose is, ahem, to make really good beer? How you go about making and selling your beer might in practice matter more than whether you can psychoanalyze your organization for its poetic possibilities.

My hunch is that most organizations can rewrite and, more importantly, reinvigorate their purpose and values pretty quickly. The right people need to be in the room together, and have the right kind of conversation (which could be massively assisted and accelerated now by virtual technology). It may not need to take several months to get it done, even in a large global organization.

Purpose and values are embodied and enacted in very specific moments that shape the future of an enterprise. Why not spend more time reflecting with colleagues about what those key moments are, and then mobilize groups of people to craft how the organization can best reflect its purpose, and its values, at these times, throughout its entire value chain, and at every decision making layer?

Businesses can experiment in real-time to create real-world changes to organizational behaviour which are tangible, impact customers, and make a difference. Do whatever it takes to ensure that these experiments are learning experiences from which your leaders and your people understand better how to activate your values, rather than describe them.

If you run a business providing telecommunications to consumers, then find out what the five most important pain points for customers and employees are. There is usually a huge amount of overlap between pain experienced by these two constituencies. This might focus on a critical aspect of the service, such as choosing a subscription plan from a complex list of plans and special offers when you are in a store. Then create agile action-teams of colleagues who are empowered to design that experience for customers and employees so that it feels intentional, and reflects your espoused values.

There are many advantages to treating purpose and values programmes both as a process of precise, compelling communication, and as people-led action-learning experiences. The biggest advantage is that your customers, investors, potential recruits, and people across your organization, start to see that purpose and values is not only about corporate language, but that it is about corporate behaviour.

Language and action, like mindset and behaviour, are mutually reinforcing, and they interact in complex ways. Their relationship is not necessarily linear. It's possible for individuals and teams to act themselves into new ways of thinking and even new ways of being.




Targeted business outcomes: better performance, enhanced ability to enable diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability, brand activation, customer experience and customer centricity.

-        Go from treating purpose, values, and brand as ‘poster’ campaigns to real-world


-        Focus on the ‘moments of truth’ or ‘moments that matter’ which have an impact on

         customers and employees.

-        Build better employee and customer experience and improve organizational health.

-        Enable execution of aspirations across an enterprise by mobilizing leaders and



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