Company Culture Building Block #3: Purpose

May 23, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

The Great American Mark Twain said “the two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” I would argue that the same can be said about the life of your company. Purpose is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that no great company culture can exist without it. A culture without purpose is like a house without a blueprint. It’s possible your ultimate vision sees the light of day, but the odds are stacked exponentially against it.

For centuries, and clarified again in the 60s by Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, the one and only social responsibility of business was to make money — and as much of it as possible. By comparison, the thought of a company being driven by purpose is something relatively new, and, to many, an idea that’s a bit soft.

Clearly, profitability is still key to every company and brand no matter how big or small. Without it, we can’t do the things we want and need to do. But as directing your team toward a higher purpose – something bigger than the company itself – continues to gain more and more traction every year, it begs greater consideration. And for good reason. Purpose-driven companies grow faster. They develop and maintain more meaningful company cultures. And they retain more talented people than companies that don’t. Just ask the experts.


From EY. “In the context of the corporation, this mindset essentially reflects a growing desire by stakeholders at all levels in organizations to have a purpose beyond the balance sheet: one that contributes a positive impact in the wider world. Indeed, today 90% of executives recognize the importance of having “an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization…and provides benefit to society.”

From Deloitte. “Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.”

From McKinsey. “Employees expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives. Employers need to help meet this need or be prepared to lose talent to companies that will.”

From Bain. “In truth, purpose has never been more important. Covid-19 thrust corporate purpose to the forefront, showing how critical it is to any organization’s ability to change. People are looking for connection and a higher sense of mission in what they do. A Bain & Company survey of nearly 1,000 global employees of companies of all sizes conducted during the early months of the pandemic found that among employees whose satisfaction with their company had increased, 86% reported that their employer has a purpose that its people are passionate about and find meaningful.”

No matter how you look at it, or from whose perspective, purpose matters. Your company culture depends on it.

What’s in it for me we?

In any organization, purpose isn’t a me orientation. It’s a we orientation. The real power of purpose is shifting that mindset within your team. As we’ve written about many times, purpose is foundational to building a transcendent company culture. And of all the elements a transcendent company culture comprises, purpose may be the most galvanizing. It’s also the one we overthink the most.

How many times have you and your management team gathered to discuss your company’s purpose? Your direction? Who you want to be when you grow up? We bring in consultants, we go on retreats, and we grind in seminars and workshops to figure out who it is we’re meant to be. It’s a worthy quest, but sometimes it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees.

If the goal is to build a lasting, engaging, inspiring company that people want to spend their careers being a part of, what lies at the heart of that for you? What do you want to be known for? What lighthouse beacon of an idea would you be proud to grow your company around? When you invest the time and energy to figure out your purpose, you give your team something noble to align with. And for maybe the first time ever, you will all begin to row in the exact same direction.

Your people want to believe the contributions they’re making are in service to something meaningful and important.

So many criticize the Millennials for their desire to “change the world.” Why? Isn’t that better than a generation who can’t be bothered to even consider the difference they could be making?

It’s all about congruence.

Purpose is the thing that gets us from where we are to where we want to go. It seems easy enough. But too often, purpose comes in the form of some top-down edict announcing grand intentions without the actions to back it up. Day in and day out, purpose isn’t delivered with big, demonstrative actions but rather with hundreds and hundreds of small, vivid signals that say, “This is our vision,” “We’re in this together,” and, “You are an important part of our future and our success.” Is that what your leadership is saying to the people who work for you?

What stories are you telling yourself about the people you work with? What assumptions are you making that consciously and unconsciously affect the way you interact with those you lead? How you encourage them, isolate them, push them, hold them back? When you rally people around purpose — when you live into purpose — it requires complete buy in. Not just from your team, but from you.

Building a company culture that’s a difference maker is all about congruence. It’s communicating to your team about what’s really important and then delivering actions that are consistent with what you say.

I’ll admit, purpose is a big word. Frankly, it’s something most people never wrestle with personally or professionally. In those cases, I think the vast majority don’t even know where to start. Imagine the transformational role you can play in the lives of your team members by being that spark. By giving them something bigger than themselves to be about. Living into our purpose personally and professionally makes everything more meaningful. No, not all of us will change the world. But how much better will we make it, just for the collective effort?

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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