Chapter 4 of Activating a Purpose Program Playbook

The Role of Company Culture

This is the fourth chapter in the playbook Activating a Purpose Program, from the ANA Center for Brand Purpose. Download the full playbook for more great insights from today's purpose champions.

Company culture might be best described as the shared ethos of a corporation. It's an expression of how employees feel about the work they do, the values they embrace, and perhaps most important, where they see the company going and how their work will accomplish those goals. Together, these attributes represent the character, or culture, of any organization.

It's little wonder that purpose factors so prominently in company culture. From influencing corporate results to recruiting talent to supporting employee enthusiasm, company culture matters, particularly when the average American spends at least one-third of his or her life at work.

When aligned with company culture, employees enjoy their time in the workplace, feel their efforts are making a larger contribution, and find themselves to be more productive. Purpose can literally super-charge this enthusiasm to the benefit of the individual, the corporation, and all intended outcomes.


Karen Quintos, Dell Technologies

We are in a period of unmatched advancement, from life expectancy being the highest ever to poverty dropping to a record low of 10 percent. There is no question that technology has played an important role in achieving these goals, but we have so much more work we need to do.

Our stakeholders, including current and future employees and customers, are prioritizing social impact at an unprecedented rate. This is a core expectation on whether they decide to work for us, or whether they decide to advocate on behalf of Dell.

Seventy-six percent of millennials now decide whether to work for a company based on the organization's social and environmental commitments, which is a contributing factor that led Dell to form its 2030 moonshot goals.

We surveyed 150,000 employees to see what their priorities were, cross-matched them with ideas from other stakeholders, analyzed what these goals would look like at scale, and narrowed it down to sustainability, inclusion, ethics, and privacy.

Dell was the first technology company to launch unconscious bias training and development. And we started nearly 10 years ago.

You have to look for people who are making the commitment, but at the same time are driving the programs either internally or externally to make the environment a place where people of any ethnic background, gender, or age feel like they can be successful.

While setting numbers and goals are nice, nothing is going to change if the company doesn't change its own culture to reflect its initiatives.


Corporate Culture Drives Purpose-Led Decisions at Vodafone

British multinational Vodafone, one of world's largest telecommunications companies, has a clearly stated purpose: "We connect for a better future." The company's expertise and scale provide an opportunity to drive positive change for society through its belief that technology and connectivity can enhance the future and improve people's lives. Vodafone aims to build a digital society that enhances socio-economic progress, embraces everyone, and does not come at the cost of the planet.

This clearly stated purpose and the acts of the Vodafone Foundation for the past 28 years through charitable giving to improve the lives of people in communities where Vodafone operates have proven inspirational to employees and a strong source of Vodafone's vibrant corporate culture.

Interestingly, the same unifying strength of culture is also shaping how the company is now responding to current business and societal issues through the creation of Vodafone Business Ventures, a division of Vodafone Business, which serves commercial customers of all sizes.

Understanding that corporate philanthropy has its limitations, Vodafone was driven to find a mechanism that provided the space to innovate while using its channels to scale and achieve sustainability.

According to Louise Hughes, global marketing lead at Vodafone Business Ventures, "We focus on building solutions that have a positive impact on society, using innovative technology. Our purpose is to change lives for the better, with a particular focus on health care and education, empowering those with less access to technological resources. Through Connected Education, we bring digital learning to the home or classroom, wherever it's needed across the world, and through Connected Living, we support people with care needs, whether they live independently or in assisted living, by monitoring their environment or communicating with caregivers. We work alongside Vodafone Business, which gives us access to the ready-made go-to-market channels in each country and a wide set of industry leading products.

"We have an important role to play in helping to create a digital society. Digital services, like the ones we provide, are quickly becoming the new engines of growth. However, as digitization dramatically increases the rate of change and pace of innovation, it can also widen existing divides in our communities. Therefore, it is our goal to democratize digitization, making technology truly accessible to everyone while being more mindful of its impact on our planet.

"Today, we are facing one of the biggest socio-economic crises of this generation, which will hit certain groups in society disproportionately. We need to focus on harnessing our innate capabilities for creating a better, inclusive future. As a purpose-led organization, there is a clear role for Vodafone Business to play. Not just showing our value to our shareholders, but to our customers, employees, and communities within which we operate."


Sarah Colamarino, Johnson & Johnson

Shaping cultural values as a brand, coupled with a long-standing credo, is integral to how you look at yourself and run your business. However, we can't do this alone; partnerships are essential. We believe in the "collective we," and this gives us the ability to be perceived in a more sincere way.

We want to be known for our mission to blend heart, science, and ingenuity to profoundly change the trajectory of health for all humanity. We want this to be reflected throughout our entire business and aim to stand for a "total approach to health." We are focused on holistic health and transforming the world for the better.

The barriers along this journey include getting everyone on our team to understand our purpose and values and introducing this new ambition to think much more broadly about the nature of health and applying this across business lines.

When I started in this role, we were doing more traditional brand campaigns like corporate sponsorships and ads. However, our brand needed to stand for something deeper. My role has evolved into developing strategies that ensure our brand is a part of the fabric of the company and has relevance to multiple stakeholders, not just our traditional consumer base. I needed to focus on strategies that ensured J&J was relevant to society and embedded in our culture.

For example, we are partnering with NGOs, universities, and other collaborators to make life-changing global initiatives. We also subscribe to the philosophy of "Big for Good" — the strength and power of a large organization can be a good thing when it is used the right way.


Victoria Morrissey, Caterpillar

We're a very consensus-driven organization, purposely moving toward a decentralization of the corporate structure, so that bodes well for sharing our brand definition and purpose. When we got a cross-functional group of about 20 people into the initial workshop, it was shocking to me how quickly people aligned around some of the answers to questions like "Why do we exist?" and "What's our purpose?"

When I started to share that with members of the executive office, peers in corporate communications, dealers in China, and so on, the unanimous feedback was, "Absolutely, I can see myself in that." So we knew we had come across what was truly at the heart of the brand. The power of a brand is understanding why it became important in the first place.

So the next step is building out the framework that my business units can use when they work with their agencies to make sure that it all looks like it connects.


How to Get Employee Support for a Company's Brand Purpose

If the organization really is purpose-driven, then decisions about recruitment, promotion, demotion, and dismissal ought to be based on whether the individual applying for a job, looking for promotion, or staying in the company is driven by the same purpose as the organization.

Before assessing their technical and professional skills, you should consider whether they truly believe in the company's purpose, and are able to live by and implement it. The next step is to determine whether they possess the requisite technical and formal skills. Usually, that is not what happens. In most cases, people only look at the applicant's technical competencies — the specialist knowledge that the organization needs. If they have them, they're in.

The same thoroughness is rarely brought to bear on whether the candidate's humanity, mentality, idealism, and ideology resonate with the organization's purpose. We usually hire people because of their technical and professional potential, not their human potential to achieve the company's purpose. Not only does this dilute the purpose and make it superfluous, but it is also inefficient and unintelligent.

If you want the recruitment process to be a success based on whether the successful applicant performs to the best of their abilities, the individual concerned must thrive in the job. As we have established, personal well-being is inextricably linked to the meaning in our jobs. The individual concerned must be able to see a more profound and higher purpose. Hiring someone who doesn't believe in the organization's work, direction, and overall purpose is simply absurd. Imagine, for example, an atheist trying to become a member of a religious community. It just doesn't make sense.

So, if an organization wants to create something sustainable, then its purpose must also serve as its primary organizing principle. The best strategy is to hire and retain employees who believe in its purpose.

— From the best-selling book One Life: How We Forgot to Live Meaningful Lives, by Morten Albaek, executive chairman of Voluntas


Andrea Brimmer, Ally Financial

If you don't have a good company, then you can't have a true purpose that will resonate with customers and the world. Culture matters and comes first. We had to fix ours, to show what we were capable of, before we got to a point where we could talk about our higher-order purpose. That was our CEO's first plan.

People want to work at a company where values are important, and they align with the way things are done. Companies need to do good in the world. It isn't enough anymore to just make money and take money; companies should have a purpose, and leaders need to drive this purpose.


Aligning Purpose with Culture

An Internationalist Insights Survey conducted in August 2020 among marketers worldwide on the evolution of purpose showed that over three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) believe that corporate culture and purpose are closely aligned. As with all surveys, the optional comments provided interesting support of the results:

  • "Corporate culture and purpose should be aligned. It would be absurd to say my purpose is 'X' and then foster a culture that is either anti-'X' or 'Y'-oriented."
  • "If the culture has not been aligned with purpose, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed."
  • "If a corporation's culture is radically different from its business/brand purpose, this will be found out and commented/acted upon."
  • "For the best companies, the two go hand in hand … inside and out."

The survey also asked whether corporate culture would erode in a work-from-home world without physical collaboration among employees. While only 21 percent of respondents believed that culture would erode in the new remote workplace, the optional comments, again, were insightful and speak to the optimism of marketers:

  • "Culture won't erode if companies focus on new ways to engage colleagues in a meaningful way. This may be an opportunity to develop a stronger culture and get rid of old-fashioned stereotypes or a 'that's how we always did it' mentality."
  • "I don't think physical space drives culture. It is actions and behaviors and the values of the organization that matter more than employee location."
  • "To some degree it will erode, but culture is what you make of it. With attention, a new corporate culture can be built."
  • "Culture evolves. Always. Intentionally or unintentionally. It is the role of leaders and all participants to be intentional about maintaining a vibrant culture."


Simon Perkins, Orvis Company

Part of our company's mission statement is: "We dedicate ourselves to personal responsibility in our own lives, and our collective efforts to the restoration, enhancement, and ultimately the long-term protection of these last great wild places."

When talking with the Orvis associates, it sometimes felt like there was a big gap between their specific jobs and the loftiness of a mission statement. Now, though, with our purpose-led principles, we talk about how our employees are doing more than just fighting for a bigger piece of the customer's credit card — they are working to do greater good for the outdoors. Orvis, through the appeal of its brand and its actual contributions, volunteer work, and advocacy commitments, can accomplish that mission. We're not perfect. We're still finding ways for our associates to feel that the company is driving that mission and there are ways they're doing something personally. There's more work to do here, but our intention is to make it happen, and employees can sense that.


Lessons on the Role of Company Culture

  • People want to work at a company where values are important and they align with the way things are done. Companies also need to do good in the world. It isn't enough anymore to just make money and take money; companies should have a purpose and leaders need to drive this purpose. Culture makes a huge difference and is critically important.
  • If you're not a good company, then you can't have a true purpose that will resonate with customers and the world. Culture matters and comes first. You must improve culture before you can authentically talk about a higher-order purpose. Often, it begins with being a priority for the CEO.
  • It's important to develop strategies that ensure a brand's mission is a part of the fabric of the company and has relevance to multiple stakeholders. This means getting everyone to understand purpose, values, and a new ambition to think more broadly. Only then can you realign a business and ultimately transform the world for the better.
  • Company culture has a significant role to play in driving purpose. Perhaps more specifically, culture and purpose are mutually reinforcing. A big part of purpose's strength is that it embodies in just a few words the essence of culture.
  • When companies empower their teams to contribute to larger issues, it integrates doing good and doing the right thing into the company culture.
  • Culture evolves. Always. Intentionally or unintentionally. It is the role of leaders and all participants to be intentional about maintaining a vibrant culture.