9 May, 2022

“Good design is fundamental to purpose; at its best it is invisible. Design gives meaning to objects and concepts, it is a connector,” Prof Lisa Scharoun, QUT.

“The key to keeping purpose on the agenda of the COO and CEO is quantifying it in fiscal terms. Purpose in Action translates to culture, positive culture drives performance,” Prof Don Sull, MIT

After a successful first series, The Future Enterprise, jointly presented by MIT Sloan School of Management and QUT Business School, has returned for its second series.

With industries worldwide facing constant change, leaders need to engage their teams to lead with clarity. This series is exploring key cultural attributes for the future enterprise.

As our webinar moderator Professor Rowena Barrett outlined, “Purpose, trust and inclusion are attributes of an organisation that seeks to lead the pack and be ready for the future.”

In the first webinar, The Purposeful Enterprise, Donald Sull from MIT Sloan and Professor Lisa Scharoun from QUT drew from their expertise to share their perspective of how purpose cannot exist without intentional design and lived social norms.

The impact of purpose

Affecting countless industries, The Great Resignation is a global trend where employees are seeking new working patterns of leaving their jobs entirely.

“We’re now expecting work to fill more than a monetary role,” Professor Scharoun said. “People need purpose to their work.”

Trained as a graphic designer and now Head of the School of Design at QUT, Professor Scharoun explained that the intent of design is to make things more meaningful, useful, beautiful and efficient.

The role of the designer is to design for a purpose and to iterate solutions when bad design, or poor systems, are uncovered.

“Design, at its best, is beautiful and banal, it is invisible and gives meaning to an object’s existence,” she shared.

Purpose driving performance

Professor Don Sull extended this sentiment, stating that at an organisation’s core is purpose, which is translated into a culture and then those values, ideally, are translated into social norms of behaviour.

Culture is a critical driver of financial success, and employee attraction, retention and engagement. Culture impacts organisational performance and it shapes an organisation’s reputation.

Looking at a sample of around 1.5 million Glassdoor reviews, Sull and his colleagues found the five toxic culture features that led to negative reviews were:

  1. Disrespectful workplace
  2. Non-inclusive workplace
  3. Unethical behaviour
  4. Cut-throat culture, undermining colleagues
  5. Abusive leaders

These features were the best predictors of people quitting their jobs and badmouthing the company to others.

Conversely, in a recent Wharton study, over 90% of CEOs and CFOs said good culture would increase the company’s value.

Professor Barrett highlighted that London Business School outlines four Ps to purpose: plausible, permanent and practical. And if we have those 3, then the fourth P, progressive, is unlocked. She suggested that profit could be the 5th indicator of good culture.

This is supported by another study of Sull’s, where they identified ‘culture champion’ companies and found that over a 5-year period 80% of these organisations outperformed their industry.

How to design a purpose-led culture?

Live your purpose

Professor Scharoun said that organisations can make a well-crafted mission statement or purpose, but “it needs to be conventional enough so people can actually live it.”

Culture, and the purpose that fuels that culture, is something that needs constant work and improvement. It’s not static, so we can’t assume that we know everything about an organisation; we have to keep reconnecting with it, the people within and the reason they all come together.

Start, don't stop, with purpose

Sull explained that the role of purpose is closest to the role of vision.

“Vision is the promised land, which spills into culture, and strategy is how you are going to get there. Culture translates purpose into day-to-day actions and business,” he said.

If you have the purpose to change the world, embodying in your culture values around innovation, risk-taking and ambition.

He outlined an example of working in the healthcare domain and your purpose is to increase health for underserved populations, the values might be around caring or compassion.

Keep purpose on the agenda

Sull outlined three big drivers of culture are:

  • Leadership behaviour
  • Social norms of individual work teams
  • Micro cultures amongst middle leaders and groups within organisations.

These need to be observed on a day-to-day basis, and the cultural development needs to be intentional.

“The reality in the boardroom is there’s a lot of competition between important considerations,” he mentioned.

“The challenge is how to get and keep culture on the agenda of the executives and boards. It takes three to five years to change culture; you have to quantify the value of culture and explain why it matters to the bottom line to resonate continuously with the CEO and executives as a priority."

Respect shaping purpose

The epitome of purposeful design being beautiful and banal design, Professor Scharoun shared that the way you get to a purposeful enterprise is through respect.

Being empathetic to people who are going through changes and co-designing new systems together leads to a respectful, purpose-led culture.

Want to build your organisation’s culture? Join us for The Trusted Enterprise on Thursday 12 May 8am AEST/Wednesday 11 May 6pm EDT, to explore how organisations can professionalise, manage and govern the complex measure of trust.

Register here: https://www.qut.edu.au/engage/the-future-enterprise-webinar-series/webinar-the-trusted-enterprise

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