If your business has decided to embark on a process of becoming purpose-led, one of the first steps you must take is to clearly articulate the guiding compass for your business: your purpose, your unique values and associated behaviours, and impact goals.

The big question that comes to many leaders then is: who do we involve in the process of defining this compass?

Some leaders hold the view that the executive team is solely responsible and best-placed to define the compass for the business. Others do see value in inviting a small number of team members, however stop at the ‘boundary’ of the organisation and forget to consider customers, suppliers, partners and even local communities.

Irrespective of the view you hold, many leaders struggle with how they can involve key people in the business in an effective and coordinated way. For them it can seem too hard and time consuming, and so opt for a small group from the C-suite working with an external consultant to pen a manifesto. The risk is that you don’t include key people who have power over whether your compass will be owned and implemented, and those who will influence others to take the compass of your business to heart.

Businesses that are not thoughtful in who to include and how, miss the invaluable opportunity to build ownership and commitment among the whole team.

When everyone is all-in and invested in the compass of your business, then you have a powerful foundation for a focused, high performing culture, attractive to your team, future employees, customers and stakeholders.

If you settle for only involving the senior leadership team, you face creating the following adverse outcomes.

Employees lack connection to and ownership of the guiding compass

We know employees are seeking more meaning and purpose in their work. If you don’t involve them in identifying the purpose, values and impact goals of your business as you build or transform, they won’t have an opportunity to bring themselves to the conversation and will feel a disconnect with what you develop. This is true for mergers and acquisitions as well. It will also be harder for them to connect their own work to the organisation’s direction.

Your team will not be on the same page and laser focused

When your team is not connected to the guiding compass you will see a lack of alignment across the business. Ultimately, this means leaders, managers, and employees will not be as laser focused as your business needs to them to be, and will be devoting their energy in different directions. For a culture to create a high performing environment, everyone needs to be on the same page and confident of the pathway.

High performing team members may go elsewhere

High performing team members actively seek businesses that can clearly articulate a compelling vision and how they are going to get there. They are more engaged where they are aligned with the business purpose and values, and where they know they are valued and can contribute. By not involving them in the articulation process, you miss out on their creative input and passion, their future role as ambassadors who model the core purpose and values of the business. You may also lose them as employees, which represents a significant cost to the business.

You miss the opportunity to tap into your customer’s passion

Your customers, suppliers and partners know why you exist and what need you fulfil for them. If you don’t bring them into the process, through focus groups for example, you miss the opportunity to tap into their passion for your business and take them on the journey as you build or transform: What it is about how you do what you do that they love (or don’t)? What social and environmental impacts are they really concerned about and want to see your business address? How can they be part of the journey? Engage your customers, suppliers and partners in the process. Don’t miss any opportunity to listen to, connect with, and value your stakeholders.

What should you do instead: take the opportunity to meaningfully engage everyone on the journey

To move to a high performing culture where everyone feels valued and connected, are pulling in the same direction, and feels engaged in a worthwhile enterprise, involve them meaningfully in articulating your purpose, values and impact goals. This will send the very real message that the entire team are co-owners of the business and it will foster their level of investment in the business.

I would like to share three tips for an inclusive process to defining your guiding compass:

1. Share your enthusiasm and 100% commitment: The enthusiasm for the initiative and the approach must come from the senior leadership team and managers. Your employees need to be 100% sure you are committed, serious and excited for them to be involved in defining the purpose, values and impact goals of the business.

2. Involve everyone or form a nominated group: I need to stress how important a participatory process is for the success of the initiative. For small to medium sized businesses, all key leadership positions with a long term focus must be involved. Also, key employees who are influential, as well as those who are critical for implementation. This may mean everyone. For larger firms, or firms across many locations, you may wish to form a nominated group. All employees are invited to submit nominations of their peers for the group.

3. Communicate and seek feedback on the purpose, values and impact goals: There are many approaches to the feedback process and refining initial drafts of your guiding compass. One approach is to use online polling to find out the level of ownership and commitment to the purpose, values and impact goals defined for your business. If you have 30% commitment, do you proceed or do you go back and revise?

Investing in a thorough process to articulate your guiding compass is a significant opportunity to add value to your business. It will result in a growth in commitment, creativity and engagement from all stakeholders, and contribute to business performance.

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