Cultivating a Purposeful Culture for Creating Shared Value

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A common feature of enlightened CEOs who embrace stakeholder capitalism and create shared value is that they build and maintain strong and purposeful work cultures. It is effectively their ‘ticket to play’. So, how do you ensure your people come together in the right way to build a positive and purposeful culture?

The Shift

In Tribal Leadership, authors Logan, King and Fischer-Wright provide evidence that competitive work cultures have limited performance potential and their challenge is to shift the language and narrative from “me” to “we”. They also find that high performance is usually achieved when employees see themselves as working towards a noble cause, putting people and the planet ahead of profits. It’s less about taking on direct competitors and more about taking on a meaningful societal challenge and winning. If you get that bit right the competitive and financial benefits tend to flow.

There’s a parallel in the shift from “me” to “we” with the shift from shareholder primacy to stakeholder capitalism. The CEO of Danone, Emmanuel Faber, sees the link:

“Your company does not exist to make a profit. It is not true. Making profit is a way for your company to continue to exist. The reason it exists is because it has a social impact, a positive reason for people to engage with you.”

Because shared value strategies are embedded in business-as-usual and draw on deeper partnerships with stakeholders, they require high levels of internal and external collaboration, and your people need to be on the “we” wavelength otherwise your efforts may be futile.

Cultural Layers

The human and cultural sides of collaborative processes are often assumed to work ‘just fine’ wherein fact they can be the source of the greatest problems. An unfulfilled idea or plan remains as just that, an idea. You can’t buy a collaborative culture, but you can accelerate the process by focusing on these three layers:

1. Mindset – Attitude Over Ability

A mindset that thrives on win-win and values group success over individual accolades is far more valuable than a highly skilled, competitive one. Collaboration is susceptible to the weakest link in the chain so there can be little tolerance of counterproductive behaviors. Best practice is to ensure that the people coming into your organization have a mindset compatible with collaboration and shared value. Increasingly, leading firms are integrating these assessments into their recruitment practices.

Humility is a prized attribute. When a global law firm was confronted with client feedback that its representatives “didn’t look like them”, it could have dug its heels in and deflected the need for change. Instead, it sought to better understand the problem and take action through its diversity and inclusion agenda. In general, attitude counts for much more than ability.

2. Positive Dynamic – Trust and Psychological Safety

As Google found out in Project Aristotle, team success is less about the mix of individuals and more about the social sensitivity of the entire group. Harvard Business School’s Amy C. Edmondson describes this as an environment where people are comfortable being themselves. This is important because creating shared value requires diverse groups to come together seamlessly, overcoming differing motivations, ‘languages’ and work cultures.

Are there any shortcuts? Building trust requires behaviors such as openness, honesty, respect, sharing and so on. A large insurance company running a pilot program to inform its shared value efforts started forging relationships with grass roots community organizations and found that it took 12-months of engagement to start gaining their trust.

We can learn from experts in this area such as Brené Brown and Jeff Polzer: vulnerability is effective in building trust. Nurturing vulnerability with the right methods in the right ways is too big a topic for this article, except to note that investments in this area pay off may times over. Your task is to help build a trusting, psychologically safe environment and rally your project partners in maintaining and protecting it.

3. Creating Buy-In – Contextualizing the Benefits

A well-crafted corporate purpose statement is a guiding light or North Star for a purposeful culture, and it needs to be embedded from the board level all the way through to the front line. A statement isn’t enough on its own, the critical part is contextualizing what it means for teams and people’s roles. What might seem obvious to you and I might be totally new to someone in accounting. They may need help in seeing the connection between their actions and the benefits for both your company and society.

Taking this a step further, embedding aspects of ‘purpose’ more explicitly in KPIs is powerful. The board of a property management company seeking to reduce the number of security incidents in a shopping center (linked to social disadvantage in the area) started by hard-coding the objective into the CEO’s medium-term performance goals.

Cultivating Purpose

Putting purpose into practice requires collaboration on many levels and, if your culture is not quite there yet, it’s worth persisting and using this three-layer framework to focus your efforts in getting there faster. Alternatively, if your culture is already strong, taking ownership of the health of these layers must be part of everyone’s role. In my experience, it’s the gateway that takes you from thinking about shared value to actually creating it.


Phil Preston is a shared value practitioner and the author of Connecting Profit With Purpose. He can be contacted via his website or at