One of the world’s most purposeful businesses finds a third of employees have been left behind – with real consequences for performance

An international Media Group considered itself a global leader in purposeful business. But, even so,  scepticism amongst some individuals was doing the business harm.  The business had worked hard to establish a clear purpose, creating an internal Purpose secretariat with members in every office across its global operations to ensure purpose was truly lived across the organisation.

Understanding the puzzle of purpose scepticism

Leadership was confident that the strategy was working and that purpose was truly alive to most employees in most countries. And they wanted a way to audit and track that. But they acknowledged there was some scepticism amongst individuals and in some operations. They just couldn’t pin down why or shift these attitudes. And they knew these were doing the business harm.. The Contexis Index was adopted to track performance and explain weaknesses. Global leadership wanted clear and robust metrics to understand and shift impact.

One of the most purposeful businesses ever measured

The results clearly showed that purpose was truly alive in the organisation. This was one of the most purposeful businesses ever measured. But there were clear weaknesses to how purpose was lived and experienced in key parts of the business. For a start, awareness of organisational purpose was 100%. More remarkably, for 72% of global employees that purpose was authentically alive and forming a key part of how they felt, how they behaved, how they made decisions – and how likely they were to stay. This activation of purpose had a significance and measurable impact on multiple measures of commitment, openness to ideas, clarity of execution, happiness and loyalty. But there was still a sizeable minority of employees who felt neutral or negative about purpose. These people were significantly less effective across all measures and far more likely to quit. The picture was particularly mixed between offices, with some performing exceptionally well in the survey and some far more negatively. Once again, what explained most of these differences was how active purpose appeared to be. But why?

The culture attributes that activate purpose

The analysis showed that specific culture attributes were activating purpose. Where these were weak, the impact of purpose on performance was suppressed.

In some offices, lower levels of emotional ownership appeared to detach people from purpose and suppress its impact in their working lives. In others it was a weakness in trust.  These cultural factors had a far greater impact on purpose activation than factors of gender, geography, ethnicity, age, practice, how long people had worked in the organisation or how aware they were of the purpose message.

The organisation now had a clear set of metrics, by office and division, that showed purpose performance. But, far more significantly explained where purpose was blocked and why.  This allowed the Secretariat to focus energy and resources on specific parts of the business with highly targeted messages and interventions.

“What is remarkable is that the research exactly matches and explains what we see on the ground. Without exception, those offices that measure the highest purpose activation are our strongest commercial performers and visa versa. As a KPI and lead indicator of financial performance I can’t imagine anything more reliable” Group Chief Financial Officer

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