Companies with soul are those that have full integrity between its strategic intent and actions. When there’s a disconnect between the two, corporate culture becomes an issue as employees don’t have a coherent experience. They’re told one thing, but their day-to-day experience of work feels very different.
Over the past 10-15 years, there's been a big discussion in the leadership world around the buzzword purpose. Yes, purpose is critical but soul lies beyond purpose. A great purpose statement codifies which behaviors are tolerated, rewarded, recommended, and recognized. There should be no ambiguity.
But purpose is a means to an end, and the end is great corporate culture – a company with soul. Seen this way, soul becomes a new critical measure of organizational value, performance, reputation and impact. On that basis, I've created the Soul System, which is a delivery pathway that helps companies in any industry and at any size at any stage of their lifecycle to improve their organizational value, performance, reputation and impact in the marketplace.
The Soul System® connects critical areas leaders should look at when building a thriving culture inside a company.
The key word here being ‘shared’. While many companies may come up with a great perfect statement, where many fail is by not embedding this statement into the company. Perhaps the leadership level isn’t aligned on the purpose. Nor does the company successfully express this statement and fill it with meaning for all stakeholders – predominantly employees.
The word shared is crucial again because it’s about getting every stakeholder to understand four key elements: vision, mission, values, and spirit. I often get raised eyebrows when I talk about spirit. But spirit is ultra-critical. It's a verbalization of how the leadership of a company wants people to experience the culture. It’s important to note that while management can create an environment for a great culture, they can't make the culture because culture is created by and between every single member of the organization.
While the first two areas have been strategic in nature, ‘Shared Behaviors’ is about the real-life experience inside the firm. You can have the greatest purpose statement and a stellar set of values, but if they aren’t lived by, they’re not worth the paper that they’re written on.
Start by codifying actions in all areas critical to employee experience, as this is where people feel (or not) the soul of the company. This could include areas such as hiring, promoting, firing, partnerships, CSR. All of these elements create a totality of behaviors inside the organization. But if these behaviors aren’t aligned with a strategic intent, a shared purpose, and the vision, mission, values and spirit, employees will feel as though they bought into a purpose that is very different from their day-to-day experience. This is how company-wide issues with purpose are born.
The Purpose Index study in the United States asked one question to employees: does your company’s purpose motivate you to get up in the morning? The study filtered the responses by hierarchy within the organization. At the Executive level, 75% of respondents reported feeling motivated by the company’s purpose. But as you move down the ranks, to middle management, junior staff, and frontline workers, those numbers dip significantly below 50%. Somewhere, there’s a disconnect between leadership and employees, which is why I focus on ‘shared’ in the Soul System.
Two companies who have built a strong culture around soul include LinkedIn and LEGO. The LEGO Group have verbalized their spirit to the phrase “Only the best is good enough”. It's a real strive for excellence in work ethic. For LinkedIn, their spirit statement is “We aspire to create a trusted, caring, inclusive, fun and transformational world of work, not just for ourselves, but for our platform for every member of the global workforce.” LinkedIn is my prime example for companies that have basically got the whole soul system framework right. When someone joins LinkedIn, they therefore have clarity on which behaviors are expected, rewarded, accepted, and pushed.
If you’re eager to craft a spirit statement of your own, the 3 Be’s are a good place to start. They are Being, Believing, and Belonging.
Being is around shared purpose. To formulate this, ask yourself two questions: why am I here, and why are we here?
Believing alings with shared understanding of vision, mission, values, and spirit. What do you believe in? How do you shape belief in others?
Belonging is about shared behavior. What does it feel like to belong here? How do we create belonging for others? A recent McKinsey study shows that the top reason people resign is because they don’t feel a sense of belonging. This framework is therefore an important piece not only in nailing strategy, but also an opportunity to attract and retain the right talent.
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