9 Ways To Activate Your Brand Purpose

Ranjay GulatiAugust 3, 202213673 min

In my book DEEP PURPOSE I detail a new mindset about purpose, one that forces executives to rethink what they do. But rethinking isn’t enough. You must move forcefully to put deep purpose into practice if you are to reap its benefits. Here are nine ways to translate a deep purpose mindset into leadership action.

1. Conduct a historical audit of your existing purpose. If you’ve done some work in this area already, take the opportunity to go deeper, interviewing founders, early employees, early customers, and so forth. If you haven’t written a history of your company, you might consider doing that. Consider how you might articulate your purpose to tap more deeply into the “soul” of the company. If you’re developing a new purpose statement, start by delving into the past, embarking on a process of discovery that in time will lead to a clearly defined purpose statement.

2. Hold ongoing “purpose discussions” in which you “stress-test” the purpose. These might take place annually or every few years. Invite senior leaders to discuss the purpose and encourage managers to engage employees as well. Be ready to take action based on these conversations.

3. Connect the past and the future. In rooting your purpose in the past, avoid letting the past hijack you, preventing you from moving toward the future. You need not adhere slavishly to past practices and priorities. Actively explore future growth opportunities, allowing your purpose to serve as a guide. In the end, aim to arrive at a synthesis of novelty and tradition.

4. Train people in principled decision-making. Translate purpose into simple, comprehensible principles that others can follow to make purpose-driven decisions autonomously. Give them opportunities to practice applying these principles in real-life situations.

5. Define a “Big Story” for your purpose. If you’re used to talking narrowly about the impact your offerings have on employees, what kind of grand, sweeping narrative can you frame? Be sure that this narrative speaks authentically to the company’s actual intent, and to your own intent as a leader.

6. Craft your “Big Story” to elicit action. To maximize the story’s impact, connect it with your personal story; explicitly convene the organization as a moral community; and frame the “Big Story” in a way that conveys a sense of urgency.

7. Be vulnerable. Openly explain and dramatize your connection to the purpose, making yourself vulnerable. Explain to your people why you feel so driven to convene a moral community at your company. Evoke the process by which you came to discover the purpose and pursue it as your own.

8. Rethink how you respond during crises. When crises arise, define them in relation to the purpose as moral “choice points.” Take the opportunity to cement the purpose even more in people’s minds and establish its continued validity.

9. Live the purpose in everything you do. If some of your leadership behaviors conflict with the purpose, drop them. But then go further and consider steps you might take during your day-to-day work to better embody your organizational purpose and the values that underlie it. These can be small gestures and big policy decisions. Both symbolism and substantive actions matter.

As this list of action steps suggests, the practice of deep purpose is transformational, amounting to a fundamental reshaping and reimagining of your business. If that seems overwhelming, rest assured that you need not accomplish it all at once. Approach deep purpose as an ongoing and open-ended project rather than a discrete, one-off initiative.

Start with a few of these steps, choosing those that seem both most relevant and actionable given your current position and resources. Unlike typical change-management exercises, deep purpose gets to the heart of why the firm exists. Little by little, it forces a recalibration of the firm’s role as well as its relationship with employees, customers, and society at large.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Ranjay Gulati and excerpted from his book DEEP PURPOSE. Copyright © 2022 by Ranjay Gulati.
Shared here with permission from Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

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