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Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast; But What About Lunch And Dinner? Defining purpose is the core business imperative for CEOs and founders

By Samson David

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Peter Drucker famously said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

But in my experience the "breakfast" argument doesn't really complement the "nutritional needs for the day" for organizations – large or small. For culture to truly thrive and for strategy to truly deliver results, another fundamental element is required to guide and drive organizations—and that is purpose.

Now more than ever, employees expect a higher level of purpose while joining an organization and are keen to understand whether what they work towards is significant and impactful. A 2022 Deloitte survey polled over 4,000 respondents found that 84 per cent said it's important to work for employers that provide meaningful work. Deloitte's Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial survey found that 46 per cent of Gen Zers and millennials in senior positions have rejected a job and/or assignment that doesn't align with their values.

Purpose defines the "why" of your organization

Defining purpose is the core business imperative for CEOs and founders.

Purpose defines the "why" of your organization—the reason for being—for why the organization exists. It gives meaning to work and inspires and provides a direction to where your organization wants to go.

Purpose is like the compass – its arrow points to the True North. This compass then guides cultures, organizational values and business strategies – over several business cycles.

Purpose rarely changes – unless the organization makes a fundamental pivot.

Values provide a sense of what's important and what's right

Values serve as ideals that guide decision-making and establish what is important and what is right. They are the fundamental core principles that the company is willing to 'live and die' by. Values are time and context invariant.

Values are like the directional markers of a compass, like NSWE.

Culture is the underpinning social order of your organization

Culture is the collection of shared assumptions, business practices and processes, and group norms that make up the work environment. Culture shapes attitudes and behavior.

Culture defines what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted or rejected within an organization. It permeates multiple levels and manifests in collective behaviours, routines and rituals, visible symbols, stories and legends, structures and control systems and physical environments.

Culture is how the organization collectively uses the compass on a day-to-day basis in the journey.

Strategy is the formal logic and roadmap for achieving your organizational goals.

Strategy provides clarity and focus for decision-making and collective action. It is about creating sustainable competitive differentiation. It could be about doing something new, building upon what you already do and doing it better than your competition, or reacting opportunistically to emerging possibilities.

Strategy can change periodically and needs to adapt to changing market forces. It is the actual roadmap that an organization puts together to go from one point to another.

While all of these are critical, the foundational element is the compass (the purpose) – and leaders need to start with finding and articulating the purpose

Finding purpose: the Ikigai way

A beautiful and profound definition of purpose comes from the ancient Japanese philosophy of Ikigai, which essentially means a 'reason for being'.

While Ikigai was conceived as, a way to help individuals achieve fulfilment by finding their purpose and reason for being in life, business leaders too can apply its principles on a much larger scale to benefit the organizations that they have founded and/or run.

There are four aspects of Ikigai and how we can apply them to businesses.

  1. What you love and are insanely passionate about

For a company this is about answering what impact do you seek to have in the world.

There are a few examples that come to mind. Apple is passionate about creating beautiful technology. Amazon is obsessed with customer experience. Even a young start-up like Soroco is passionate about changing the world of work – one team at a time through its work graph technology.

Action: Business leaders need to ensure that the passion of individuals and teams within their organization are aligned to this organizational passion. It is imperative that leaders give employees an environment in which they enjoy working, and where they are constantly energized and can grow.

  1. What you are good at

Just doing what you are passionate about is not enough – you need to be good at it too.

It is not possible to do everything. That's why successful companies focus on their core competencies. Do one thing and be better than anybody else in the world in doing that.

Action: Business leaders need to ensure that their people are constantly motivated to focus on what really matters. They need to create an environment where learning and development is constant and ongoing and is applicable for everybody. They need to create an environment where the best ideas win – no matter where it comes from.

  1. What the world needs

If the thing that your organization spends a lot of time making isn't really needed in the world it really doesn't matter.

For a company's long-term survival, satisfied customers are essential – which means you need to make sure that you have a sizeable enough market to build a business around.

Action: Business leaders must make this corporate purpose visible and tangible for all employees; everyone must see that their performance contributes to the corporate purpose and that their work is needed by the world.

  1. What you can be paid for

While you can find something you love and are passionate about, something you're good at, and something the world needs, if you can't charge enough for it to cover your costs plus make a reasonable profit, you won't be very successful.

Action: Business leaders need to focus on growing the base of paying customers. Ultimately, the paying customers are the confirmation that our products are really useful to them. This is the true test of value creation – for the customer, for the organization, for the employees and the society at large.

To find the purpose 'the reason for being', leaders need to find their organizational Ikigai by finding the right balance at the intersection of the answers across all the four aspects.

The Zen: Purpose helps to unleash the biggest source of renewable energy on this planet – the energy of our people!

Purpose, values, culture, and strategy must all come together for an organization to be truly successful – but purpose is foundational, and leaders must lead with purpose

  • Purpose is the compass and its arrow
  • Values are the directional markers of the compass – NWSE
  • Culture is how the compass is collectively used on a day-to-day basis
  • Strategy is the actual map for getting from one point to another

Ikigai gives leaders and organizations the opportunity to take a step back, reflect, and reassess their true purpose, rather than pursuing progress at any price.

Leaders who provide a sense of purpose and joy to their organization and their people and give them their reason for being in the context of work, are poised to harness and unleash the biggest source of renewable energy on this planet – the energy of their people!

I believe this is core for leaders to creating sustainable value over long period of time across several business cycles – something that will outlive and outlast themselves!

Samson David

CEO & managing director at Soroco

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