From the Exosphere
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From the Exosphere

Five practical ways to embed purpose and values in your organisation

With Olivia Gossage / 8 November 2019

Organisations can invest lots of time and money crafting a unique purpose statement and values, only to find that staff easily forget what they are. During the process to come up with a purpose and values, it’s easier to generate lots of energy and enthusiasm from staff. However, when it comes to embedding the purpose and values, many organisations lose momentum — and people quickly go back to old habits.

To combat this, we have pulled together five practical ways to develop and embed your purpose and values. Follow these steps to take your people from ‘What’s our purpose?’ to ‘I can see how we are living our purpose and values on a daily basis’.

1. Make your purpose statement clear, inspiring and authentic

How you articulate and present your purpose is a big part of its success in becoming part of the organisation’s DNA. To build belief and commitment from staff, your purpose needs to be a strong, clear, and inspirational statement.

Many businesses today are articulating their purpose in a way which goes beyond profit. A strong purpose statement will emphasise an organisation’s intention to make a difference to society or the planet — which can be a key ingredient to attracting and retaining customers and employees, and can encourage new innovation and business partnerships.

Purpose beyond profit is something we’ve touched on here at MartinJenkins with the ‘Single Organising Idea’ — a positioning statement that is used to explain why the organisation exists, and is used internally to shape what happens or how things get done.

We’re not alone in our thinking. Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor also talk about how powerful purpose statements can be in shaping behaviour. They mention that if the purpose statement reflects something aspirational, it can build motivation by “explaining how the people involved with an organisation are making a difference, giving them a sense of meaning, and drawing their support.”

A purpose checklist

So when you’re framing your purpose statement, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is our purpose statement aspirational?
  • Does it explain how we are making a difference in society?
  • Will it give employees a sense of meaning? Does it get people excited?
  • Is it memorable? Does it use language that’s easy to understand and unambiguous?
  • Can we embed it across all activities in our organisation?
Image source: Pixabay

2. Embed your purpose in EVERYTHING you do

Your purpose statement should be like your North Star, guiding the actions and behaviour of people in the organisation. Ideally, every team and every individual should be able to talk about how their work connects and contributes to the organisation’s purpose.

To build alignment, we recommend that each team does an ‘internal audit’ exercise to generate ideas about how to embed the purpose within current and future activities:

  • Ask people to think about what they or their team can stop, start and continue doing, to contribute to the purpose
  • Identify potential actions or changes that would ensure the purpose underpins all the team’s activities.

Having a group discussion about this increases buy-in for the different ideas and actions. It also helps people to think differently (and potentially more often) about how what they do can contribute to the purpose.

Image source: Pixabay

If you’re doing this well, everyone in the organisation — no matter what their role — should be able to answer these questions:

  • How does my work contribute to our purpose?
  • In my own decision-making, what choices can I make to ensure we’re living our purpose?

3. Make your values memorable

If you’re still developing and articulating your values, I strongly encourage you to think about having value statements instead of single words. Yes, we definitely hope that people demonstrate ‘Respect’ and ‘Integrity’, and other values which are often used. However, anecdotal evidence from our work so far indicates that values statements are a more powerful way to make values meaningful and memorable.

Several leading New Zealand organisations have values statements. These statements are often easier to remember (as they’re a bit different), and more powerful at helping employees understand the behaviours expected of them. Here are a few interesting examples — see if you can pick who the organisation might be!

  • Be bold
  • Rise to the challenge
  • Share everything
  • Be entrepreneurial
  • Value the person
  • Make people smile
  • Shape the future
  • Don’t be a d**k

The critical component of these values statements is that they ‘speak’ to the people within the organisation. Instead of running an exercise within the leadership team to develop values statements, build buy-in by engaging with a broader group of people from all levels of the organisation. This helps generate ideas, and creates a network of people who can promote the values within their teams.

It’s also helpful to describe behaviours that go with each of the values — otherwise people will interpret the values in their own way.

4. Make your values part of your everyday language

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. And then communicate some more!

To truly embed your purpose and values, leaders need to make them part of their everyday communication. This takes effort from many people — from leaders, team managers and the communications team — but is critical if you want people to remember the values and live by the expected behaviours.

Great global leaders do this well. If you look at coverage of conversations with Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, you’ll see that purpose is inherent in lots of things he talks about. It’s also his personal mission: to be a force for good instead of just making a profit.

Image source: Pixabay

It also helps to frame your purpose and values in a positive light. Are you talking about a great initiative or project that has just been completed? Then highlight how what was achieved and how it was delivered links to living out the firm’s purpose or values. Are you about to launch a new product or service? Explain how it connects to your firm’s purpose.

If you want to put extra effort into this, ask leaders from across the business to write up examples of teams or people demonstrating the values, which can be shared across the organisation. These examples should focus on:

  • What happened?
  • Who was involved?
  • How does the situation demonstrate living the purpose and/or values?

The key thing to remember is: if you’re a leader and you think you’re communicating your purpose and values enough, you probably aren’t. Once you start hearing other people talking about the purpose and values, then it’s okay to take your foot off the accelerator (but not completely!).

5. Make it fun

When we refreshed our own organisational values at MartinJenkins, we brainstormed lots of ways to embed them into our organisation. The methods that have stuck over the past couple of years are those that are fun and that involve people in the process.

We run an internal values awards process several times a year. Yes, it’s as cheesy as it sounds, but it’s low effort and high impact, and everyone gets behind it. A couple of weeks before our all-staff get togethers, someone sends around a request for nominations. People nominate their peers for an award relating to each of our values, and provide a short description of why they think their nominee deserves the award. At our all-staff get together, someone reads out the values and the winner is announced. The prize? It depends on which of our values the nomination is for — it ranges from a large rubber duck for our value ‘We take our work seriously but not ourselves’, to a wooden hamburger for ‘Better together’.

How do I know it works? Well, after several years of running the values awards, we still get lots of nominations each time. And people have mentioned the values awards as a great part of working here.

Extra cheese please!

About the author

Senior Consultant Olivia Gossage is part of the MartinJenkins Wellington team and works with clients all over New Zealand. She is passionate about working with others to create and sustain positive workplace environments.

Olivia specialises in supporting clients to shift their culture, lift organisational capability, and shift the barriers which prevent people from doing great work. She has worked with public and not-for-profit clients in New Zealand.

Olivia’s approach is highly analytical but also very personable — she works closely with her clients to solve problems and develop innovative ways of improving their processes. With her commitment to a holistic view of organisations and an evidence-based approach, she delivers high-quality, durable results.

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