What’s your organization’s positive purpose?

We need innovative, decisive, positive, learning organizations – now more than ever. A positive organizational culture helps to make your work better, more fun, faster, but also contributes to better ESG solutions for the world. Plus, you can achieve 20-40% more productivity and results. See my book “Developing a Positive Culture”. Check how you can develop your organization’s shared positive purpose as that can help solve many ecological, social, and governance (ESG) issues. The world needs your contribution!

A positive organizational culture is inspired by a shared positive purpose. A shared positive purpose is not an objective, but a long-term, meaningful goal that serves a greater whole than yourself. It is a higher mission – but not a mission statement on paper. Such a positive purpose inspires everyone’s thinking and doing, all actions and interactions, decisions and priorities. It is alive. A positive purpose focuses on possibilities, not limitations. It formulates positively what you want to achieve (not what you want to avoid) and what you can do yourself (not what is beyond your control).

Maybe you know the story of the three masons who were cutting natural stone into large blocks. When a passerby asked what they were doing, the first mason said, “I’m chopping stone.”
The second replied, “I’m building a wall.”
The third blasted, “I’m building a cathedral!”
This story ties in with Lyubomirsky’s research that distinguishes three ways of thinking about work: people can see work as a job, a career or a vocation. If you have a job, you watch the clock because work is a way to make a living. With a career, you want to get higher up and you look at the calendar to measure your progress in the hierarchy. With a vocation, you want to make a difference. You do what you love to do. You don’t look at a clock or calendar, but you feel urgency: it’s time for positive change!

Example: Johnson & Johnson

In 1975, James Burker, then CEO of the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, organized a workshop on the company’s Creed. That Creed had been written by its founder in 1943, and Burker wondered if it still applied. After a day of brainstorming, discussion, questioning and research, the top executives concluded: we keep the Creed, this is our positive purpose. It begins with the sentence, “We believe that our first responsibility is to physicians, nurses and patients; to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” The creed goes on and names the four groups the company serves in order: first the customers from this first sentence, then the employees, then the community and finally the shareholders.

Seven years later, the Creed saved Johnson & Johnson. In 1982, a malicious outsider tampered with the packaging and Tylenol capsules were sold containing poison. Eight people died. Burker and his team worked day and night to figure out what had happened: who, how, when, where, what next? The FBI and FDA recommended not recalling all Tylenol nationwide to avoid panic. Johnson & Johnson ignored that. They recalled all the tablets at a cost of $100 million. They explained and took the blame.
Johnson & Johnson instantly turned into a public safety organization and made thousands of instant decisions. They invented safer packaging, changed production lines, improved security. It was an incredibly quick, effective response – led by the Credo. Their message was clear: We will take care of you. Contrary to what all the experts expected, the stock price went up instead of down. The company was rewarded because they had “done the right thing”.
This is what a strong culture and a positive purpose accomplish (why are we here, who are we, what are our values?). The people of Johnson & Johnson moved as one. They knew what their shared, inspiring purpose was. Their culture and creed directed thousands of micro-decisions.

Ecological and social contribution

Right now, we face global Ecological, Social and Governance, or ESG issues that we must improve. Climate change, social inequality and fair regulation affect the playing field. A positive goal that contributes to improvements in the ESG areas gives organizations and people energy and direction. Customers and employees alike demand this of companies. Recent McKinsey research finds that “Ninety-two percent want companies to speak up about ESG challenges, with 74 percent pointing out that CEOs need to take the lead.” So, where do you start? In my book “Developing a Positive Culture” you’ll find individual reflection, exercises to do with colleagues and things you can do as a leader and organization to achieve your organization’s positive purpose.

From outside to inside

While finding your organization’s positive purpose, it’s helpful to look beyond your bubble or team.Talk with internal and external customers, suppliers, opinion leaders, family, friends, artists, researchers and students in your field. What does your team or organization contribute to these stakeholder groups? How do they see the world? What else do they need? What advice do they have? What (more) would they do with your strengths? Also consider the “silent stakeholders” that currently don’t have a voice: what would nature and future generations say, if they could answer these questions?
You can collect the answers and present the information to your team. Or you can invite these stakeholder groups to brainstorm with your team around these questions:

  • What do we contribute to [other team, this target group, the world]?
  • What is going well – what is our added value?
  • What else do they need?
  • What advice do they have?
  • What would they do (more) with your strengths?

Looking for some inspiration? Below are some purpose statements from other organizations. We must stay away from greenwashing, good PR and marketing, but it seems that the examples below walk their talk (or do their best to live up to their higher purpose). Of course, no organization is perfect and if they do well on the social front, they may improve the ecological front, etc. However, the list might give you ideas for how to inspire your organization and its culture with a positive purpose – and how to make that practical so it actively informs daily priorities and decisions.

Patagonia: Save the planet
Natura & Co Group: Wellbeing as a way of living
DSM: Bright science, brighter living
Johnson & Johnson: Building a world of well
Unilever: We are making sustainable living commonplace
Bayer: Health for all, hunger for no one
Linkedin: Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce
Tesla: Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy
IKEA: Create a better everyday life for the many people
Schneider Electric: Empower all to make the most of our energy and resources
Walmart: We save people money so they can live better
Logitech: Bring tools that enrich the interface between people and information
FAVI steel: A constant search for customer love, trust in human being and innovation
Buurtzorg: Improved quality of life for every client
Nucor steel: Together, we’re better (We’re not building steel, we build people)
Eileen Fisher apparel: To inspire simplicity, creativity and delight through connection and great design
W.L. Gore: We innovate to enhance everyday experiences, mend hearts, explore space and so much more. Coolblue: everything for a smile
Starbucks: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time
Brand New Day pension: Calvinistic in costs, Burgundian in service
Zappos: Deliver WOW Through Service – to live and deliver WOW
Greenchoice energy: Making the Netherlands greener together
Triodos bank: The conscious use of money
Vebego facility services: Meaningful work for everyone
Clarke: Make communities around the world more livable, safe and comfortable
Ørsted: To create a world that runs entirely on green energy
Barry Wehmuller: We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people

We help people to

Lat but not least, there’s another exercise you can do to develop your positive ESG purpose. Collectively complete the sentence: “We help people to…”
How does your team or organization make the lives of customers easier, more fun, better – what need do you fulfill? What contribution are you making?

You can find more theory, tips and exercises in the book. Go for it!

© Marcella Bremer, 2023

The time for a positive transition is now. This decade until 2030 determines the future. Let’s help people and organizations become future-fit.

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