A scenario commonly seen in struggling companies today is that leaders rather tend to focus on substantial strategy shifts and cost-cutting as opposite to talent retention. For leaders, by creating a culture of purpose they can not only revitalize the business but also energize its people. In recent years, the term ‘culture of purpose’ has climbed into the corporate hall of buzzwords. Purpose is a promise to do the right things, making the organization a right fit and a prime mover of value for its stakeholders and employees. When an organization’s collective pursuit defines its behavior of the world, it displays a classic case of a culture of purpose.
Below are two prime examples of companies that responded to tough times with a purpose-driven initiative that both motivated its employees and boosted results. Flush For Good In January 2012, when Jay Gould was anointed the CEO of American Standard, the 136-year old sanitation company was bankrupt. Gould’s job was getting the company back on track. Gould did so by underlining the organization’s inherent purpose.
A major part of its 2013 turnaround was by reaching out in regions where there was no plumbing and sanitation. The company collaborated with the Gates Foundation, a team of American Standard R&D department created a plastic toilet pan that can be easily joined with a typical toilet pit with the help of a tight seal to keep flies and to prevent from unsafe cross-contamination. American Standard launched the Flush For Good initiative, its first ever national ad campaign in ten years, which promised that for every Champion® brand toilet sold, it would donate one plastic toilet pan in to fight against diseases in developing nations.
Creating a Culture of Purpose
When the initiative was previewed at an employee meeting, Gould received a standing ovation. Everyone got inspired by what the company was about to do. In 2013, the Champion sales increased by over 62% over a 20-month period and American Standard saw quadrupled earning. A massive 180% quantified improvement was witnessed in terms of employee engagement. “When I first got here, you saw people walking with their heads down in the hallways. Now you can feel the energy and optimism inside our company” Gould recalls. Matter to a Million In 2012, when Meg Whitman took over Hewlett-Packard as its CEO, the company was adrift in some kind of limbo.
She has since rebuilt the organization, including the much-talked about the breakup into two new publicly traded companies. But she also committed a larger part of her job towards fortifying HP’s culture of purpose. In 2013, HP launched the Matter to a Million initiative, in a global partnership with its Foundation and Kiva, a non-profit that helps individuals take microloans to become low-income entrepreneurs and be the drivers of economic progress especially in some of the most impoverished geographies of the world.
Instead of HP simply providing microloans, it gave its employees the power to direct the donations. In a period of six-months, 115,000 HP employees had made loans that totaled more than $5.5 million. For some, the initiative might be nothing but simply a reckless distraction for its employees. But the initative has energized the workforce within the organization. Employees feel valuable for making a difference. Flush For Good and Matter to a Million are two iconic examples of how even in times of difficulty, leaders should stand up to create a culture of purpose to energize employees and propel towards the direction of success.