Trust unlocks purpose in a global Bank – with the most surprising results

The European division of a global Bank had developed a new purpose. It now wanted to measure whether purpose was influencing team effectiveness. It chose to use the Contexis Index to provide these insights.

Shockingly weak organisational performance

The analysis showed that organisational performance was remarkably weak relative to benchmark organisations. Performance was particularly weak in culture and in leadership perception. In particular trust was 37% below a benchmark of other scaled organisations to have taken the Index.. It was also clear that the longer an individual served in the Bank, the less positive their attitudes became with a real issue in middle management.

Only 23% of employees believed in the Bank’s purpose

The Bank was appalled – but detailed analysis of the data showed a very clear source issue to explain the problem: only 23% of employees believed positively in the Bank’s purpose. Yet, that small group who believed the Bank to be purposeful scored dramatically more positively on all attitudinal and behavioural characteristics (32% happier, 57% more engaged, twice as clear on strategy). These differences drove significant motivation and performance differences between individuals. The problem was simply that most people didn’t believe the purpose the Bank had crafted.

Quite remarkably, those who actively engaged with the Bank’s purpose experienced levels of trust in the Bank and in colleagues 300% more strongly than those who did not.

Damaging impact of top-down purpose communication

The research team made a series of recommendations. Principally that, since the key issue was not clarity of purpose but trust, it was potentially disastrous to simply communicate purpose ‘top-down’. Everyone in the organisation needed to be engaged in the process of connecting and interpreting this purpose to their own experience, being challenged around their beliefs, and having the opportunity to articulate their fears to rebuild trust. It was recommended team leaders received urgent coaching on open and vulnerable leadership prior to this process being rolled out, But that the programme should be internally run and delivered rather than devolved to an external consultancy.

It was predicted that if the Bank did no more than shift the attitudes to its purpose of the average employee to that of the purpose-positive employee and moved the majority of the negative individual to a state of neutrality, as measured in the survey, it would see an aggregate improvement in positive beliefs and productive behaviours across the Bank of 25-30%.

Trust unlocks purpose across the Bank.

The Bank embarked upon a series of structured conversations and interventions led by its own leadership. Teams discussed and agreed what purpose meant and defined a set of behaviours to which all members committed and against which the success of the purpose could be judged. The full Index analysis was then repeated after 6 months. The second survey revealed that there had been a dramatic improvement in attitudes to the Bank’s purpose with 50% of the organisation now having a positive attitude, up from 23% only a few months before, and only a tiny group remaining negative. What had driven that was a dramatic improvement in levels of trust which appeared to have effectively ‘unlocked’ purpose across much of the Bank.

Performance measures ‘dramatically improve’

Bringing purpose to life had also led to marked improvements in happiness, personal motivation and wellbeing in the team – and a 30% reduction in turnover intention. In fact, measured attitudes and behaviours across all performance measures (personal, cultural and management) had, as predicted, improved by an average of 32.5%. 

Customer-facing teams also reported an unexpected uplift in revenue performance averaging 13% amongst teams that engaged in the programme.

There is much work still to be done, with half of employees still feeling neutral and a few  negative about the purpose. But the Bank can see the powerful benefit of bringing everyone on board with a genuinely activated purpose. And now has the tools and metrics to ensure this can be achieved – and tracked over time.

As the divisional Director commented “The reaction to the interventions and driving the sense of purpose has been dramatic, with our Index scores showing a significant improvement. This is reflected in how the team is interacting and the overall spirit within the team. The work we have been doing has shown fantastic results – an increase of 30% in positive behaviours across the business would see significant results within team engagement and commercial performance”.

Read more about why now more than ever we need robust and actionable metrics

How a fast-growth fintech discovered the purpose it had never had – and a 20% performance uplift

A London based pioneer in foreign exchange had grown rapidly into a €1bn business. Yet some parts of the culture worked better than others. Why? The Founders knew they had achieved their extraordinary growth by being at the forefront of innovation and offering amazing customer service. And they knew the source of that innovation and service was an exceptional culture that the company had invested a lot of energy in creating. But they also knew that some individuals were far less motivated and productive than others. And that some parts of the organisational culture worked better than others. But they hadn’t been able to pinpoint the source of excellence in their people performance.

Understanding culture and the source of performance

So when they heard about the work that Contexis was doing with Cambridge on measuring the impact of purpose on human and business performance they were keen to get involved. They wanted to understand more about their culture and to identify the source of performance, so that they could target interventions to bring the average employee to the same level of excellence as the top performers.

What they learnt from the analysis was remarkable. Yes, it reflected what they knew: the scores for engagement and joy were practically off the charts. And it also told them something transformational that they didn’t know; one particular characteristic in their people fundamentally drove performance almost to the exclusion of any other and was the key source of productivity. That characteristic was engagement with purpose. Those with a high purpose score were 30% more engaged, 28% more likely to experience the company as trustworthy and 32% more likely to be clear as to the company’s strategy. Their performance was 17% higher than peers and they were a remarkable 34% less likely to leave the company. The key outtake of taking the Index was that a focus on purpose rather than engagement was likely to have a far more significant positive impact on their people’s happiness and performance. 

The purpose enigma

And yet what mystified the Founders and directors was one thing. The company didn’t have a purpose. At no point in its history had the company had the time and focus to articulate and communicate a purpose. They just lived as if they had.

And that created a problem. Particularly the newer hires had no language and no framework to understand why the organisation existed and what it sought to do in the world. That left some confused and disengaged.

It was a simple task to get the firm together in small groups to discuss and understand purpose, And to come up with words that articulated what many employees instinctively knew. The exercise gave new energy and new focus to the whole business. And The Index gave it a clear performance target and a metric to measure it against.

As the Founder and CEO commented, “without purpose, a company can only flipflop around without truly consolidated, effective effort. What Contexis has developed with its Index is a very clever way to measure the impact of Purpose on Performance, enabling companies to really motivate their teams. Contexis Index did it for us!”.

Can Purpose Be Measured?

Is there evidence that purpose drives long-term commercial performance? Can purpose be measured? And if so, can we measure the way it affects performance. (Two minute watch)

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