Purpose. It’s a trending topic for businesses today. A quick Google search of the phrase “company + purpose” produces a whopping 1,030,000,000 hits. Harvard Business Review has published literally dozens of articles on the subject in the past 12 months alone. And leaders across the country – and the world – are paying attention; working to figure out what role purpose should play in their organizations and in their cultures, because this topic is becoming increasingly near and dear to their employees’ and customers’ hearts.
The Race Is On
Organisations are clamouring to join the race to proclaim their higher purpose, raison d’être, new principles and supporting values and programmes. And imbed sustainability consciousness into their culture. It seems that business has awakened to the need to heal, sustain and nurture the environment, society and the economy; to adopt people, planet and profit bottom lines. There has been an accompanying proliferation of sustainability consultancies, service providers, academic papers and conferences.
Like millions of Americans, I was surprised and a little saddened by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. I wasn’t surprised, however, by the sharp emotional divide between those who wanted to stay and those who wanted to leave. That’s because the Brexit debate was really about culture. And for a concept that many leaders believe is too intangible or fluffy to worry about, culture sure has a way of bringing out the fight in people.
The Subject Of Culture
Organisational Culture has been a focus for business for more than three decades and demands attention as organisations try to attract talent, overcome low engagement levels, and build their reputations and sustainability. Culture (including organisational culture) reflects in shared meaning, characteristics and behaviour (internally and with the outside world). A workable definition derived from Hofstede for organisations, “it is the mental programming that we inherit from our ancestors and pick up from the people around us.”1 In juxtaposition is Jung on the development of individual character, “The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life. Naturally this is not a conscious, intellectual process.”2
One of the greatest business challenges is effectively changing a workplace culture. What if it’s an extremely large, global corporation? Some might view it as an unsurmountable challenge. Not Larry Senn. He has arguably been a part of more large-scale culture transformations than any other individual in the world. He’s the founder and chairman of the culture-shaping firm Senn Delaney, a Heidrick & Struggles company.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him as part of his gracious support of CultureUniversity.com, where he provides regular insights on best practices in culture change as one of our esteemed faculty members (see the full video interview – link). The insights he shared, and his regular columns, should help us all more effectively manage culture change.