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Culture Vs Purpose: Which Works Better?

CEO’s and organisations are too willing to boast of having a ‘great culture.’ This isn’t enough. Culture has become a ‘me-too’ word. Culture has become the ‘cool’ strategy to focus around. However we may need to rethink the next phase of what culture means.

An increasing number of generation Z recruits and experienced senior employees are looking for meaning in their careers.

Focusing on purpose over culture is a far more effective way of leading an organisation.

Marc Benioff’s book Trailblazer explains that leaders will need to focus their business on making a contribution outside of themselves.

Reflecting on Benioff’s book made me realise how we’ve been preoccupied with organisational culture over purpose.

I’ve met many CEOs who were willing to invest in culture and culture change. Comparatively few are willing to spend time or money on defining and properly articulating business purpose.

1. Culture has become a trend. Purpose is deeper.


The fifth industrial revolution will focus businesses on more than just profit. Instead, we’re looking towards climate change, restoring trust and furthering equality. How can we better use technology to undo the damage we’ve caused our planet?

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Purpose should be the driving force of 5IR enabled business, and ought to be defined with a lean towards diversity and inclusion. Whether it’s how we can contribute more towards groups, the wider economy, pushing boundaries within our industries or driving better solutions, we all need to start thinking about purpose.

Instead of employee engagement, what if we looked at alignment with purpose. Managers could embed purpose points in what Benioff calls V2MOM’s (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures) or KPIs, being explicit about the impact we’re choosing to make on markets or wider society.

Defining purpose within organisations can mean different things. We shouldn’t all set out to save the world. It’s better instead to be clear about the real reasons people would work for you. What good are you trying to do within your industry? What shift are you trying to create?

At Modulr, we’ve been trying to unlock services that have been underserved in B2B. Our purpose is providing wider, fairer access to services. This enables us to be a tech-focused organisation that cares about pioneering within a sector.

How can you align your organisation with its true purpose? How could this link with your employees KPIs and the business’ overall success?

2. Innovators outcompete their peers


I think that the fifth industrial revolution will bring about a change towards purpose driven leadership. This leadership will be tech enabled, but focus predominantly on societal and economical change for good.

Businesses driven by purpose outperform their peers. Imperative’s study, showed 58% of companies with a clearly articulated purpose achieved growth of 10% or more between 2013–2016.

Great leaders need to start thinking about adopting purpose if they want to attract and retain talent. Purpose driven organisations are set to have more engaged employees who feel more aligned to company goals.

3. Tie purpose to hard metrics to make it a business priority.


Measuring employee engagement has been a growing area of investment over the past five years. Engagement data has been used as a barometer of how healthy a business is. I’d argue that purpose is a more worthy investment.

A better approach would be to use purpose as a means of aligning an entire organisation.

Purpose is a deeper motivator than business culture. Figuring out how to embed purpose throughout an organisation shifts how an entire company thinks. Leadership must be clear on vision. This clarity should roll downhill through meaningful conversations between managers and their direct reports.

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Under Mark Benioff, Salesforce was successfully led with a clearly communicated purpose. Between 2017 and 2019 Salesforce’s revenue increased from $8.4 billion to $13.3 billion.

Imagine a future in which CEOs and their companies around the world applied the same focus and innovation they bring to solving their most complex business problems to solving our most complex social ones. Together, we can make that future a reality by creating cultures of activism where every individual is personally invested in making the world a better place.

4. Use purpose for engagement and retention.


The more a salesperson makes, the more they are paid. Is there a better strategy? Instead of choosing to motivate sales teams with money, perhaps we could build a sales strategy around purpose.

Having sales staff define their own purpose is a better way of driving performance. Reid Hoffman’s book ‘The Alliance’ looks at this — how to create an employee / employer alliance.

Employees define their own purpose along the ‘journey’ in an alliance with employers. We see ourselves on a tour of duty, at each point growing and assisting the wider team with its goals whilst serving our own purpose. This purpose can constantly change, which is a good thing.

Employees and employers should see ourselves as on the same journey, whether or not we’re at different stages.


The key issue for leadership then becomes translating corporate purpose in a meaningful way to individuals.

Individual purpose changes throughout a career. Open and continuous communication enables us to grow with these shifts. Individual purpose grows with both the organisation and our own core purpose.

Purposeful, driven teams generate better long-term results. Organisations that align around purpose should expect a better bottom line and more revenue growth. The Gartenberg study, which surveyed 500,000 people from 429 companies from showed better financial results (ROI) and growth in purpose driven organisations.

Studies by Harvard Business Review also found that purpose was highly effective at driving revenue growth.

Everyone should believe in the place they’re working in.

When companies first began migrating services to the cloud, many felt this was a hasty move. Early adopters outcompeted their rivals simply by being ahead of the curve. Look at purpose this way — new philosophies on leadership, inclusion and diversity may come and go, but purpose is here to stay..

Culture is an overused meaningless term. The real driver in your organisation should be purpose.
Leadership