The modern rulebook: Putting purpose, vision and values at the heart of a business

A new digital openness means that businesses are more exposed than ever before: one positive this has produced is an increased focus on values and purpose, says Mel Wombwell from Grant Thornton.

Aligning purpose, vision and values to a company’s strategic plan is vital to creating a high-performing, sustainable business in a rapidly changing world.

Until recently, many companies have tended to concentrate on short-term profits – often because of the way they are measured by investors with their almost exclusive focus on financial results. In fact many still do – and are finding themselves isolated and unconnected as a result.

We are going through a transitionary period where a new set of rules around business is emerging. The digital economy is making organisations more open and vulnerable to public opinion.

Workplaces are fragmenting and hierarchies are flattening. Workers of all ages, and at all levels, now want and expect more meaningful work and they’re willing to move to the highest bidder in terms of the opportunity and breadth of experience on offer.

The Cultural Web

To ensure purpose, vision and values are at the heart of a business, companies must identify where they are now, understand stakeholder expectations and assess where they want to be.

The Cultural Web, a concept by management academics Johnson and Scholes, identifies a set of assumptions within an organisation that govern the way things work. These include company routines, rituals, stories that are told, power and organisational structures and control systems. Using this method, businesses can assess what’s working and what isn’t.

>See also: Creating a business for the lifecycle – not just for start-ups

Here, businesses should resist quick fixes and instead ask its key stakeholders what they expect of the business. This collaboration will enable a company to identify gaps between performance and expectations and grapple with what changes are pivotal for future success.

Once they have developed this understanding they can project five or 10 years forward and identify the relevant political, economic, social and technological trends and changes that could influence, shape and affect the business in the future.

Overall, the Cultural Web is a systematic approach to cultural change and involves remoulding values, beliefs and behaviour. It provides a good foundation for the difficult business of changing organisation culture.

For instance, its rigour is integral to mergers and acquisitions. Culture fit is just as important as structural fit in the analysis of potential partners. Several M&A’s have failed in the past due to cultural clashes, which were never adequately evaluated and addressed.

Grant Thornton is a strong proponent of the Cultural Web. The culture change in Grant Thornton over the last few years started with some research looking forward more than twenty years to get an insight into how the business will look and how our market would have changed. This forward planning allowed us to develop a clear view of the organisation we wanted to become.

The heartbeat of a business

Research by business thinkers Jackson and Tosti shows that high-growth, high-performing organisations not only take time to formulate a strategic plan but ask, how can they instil a sense of value in their people and how should they behave to achieve their plan within a defined timeframe?

These companies look beyond fiscal measurements and ensure purpose, vision and values become the heartbeat of the business.

Some companies have already started taking this approach. Global multinational Tata, Swedish bank Handelsbanken and fruit processor Andros are three notable successes. By embedding a clear vision and values these businesses have recorded strong performances, reputational benefits, customer satisfaction and employee retention.

Genuine authenticity and long-term planning helps companies become more transparent and open which, as a corollary, prevents problems spiralling out of control, develop into reputational crises and cause damage that can take many years to fix.

>Related: The future is here – embracing 21st Century

Given the centricity of embedding a clear and nurturing culture, it’s important to note that this approach is not just for the HR department. This CEO and senior leadership team are responsible for articulating and communicating these messages on an ongoing basis. Its importance is equally not confined to large corporates.

In choppy seas it’s the smaller sailboat that feels crashing waves more than the tanker. In fact, it’s often easier to build a strong purpose, vision and values into a business when it’s growing rather than once it’s become an international behemoth.

The discipline of focusing on ‘softer metrics’, such as purpose, vision and values, represents a departure from the profit-driven culture which has prevailed to date. While some organisations have already ripped up the old rulebook, some are just starting the journey.

Wherever an organisation is, it’s important to remember that no business is perfect nor is their work ever finished. Embedding purpose, visions and values, and challenging the leadership team and the wider business to think more about the medium to long-term, will result in a more positive, sustainable and ultimately successful business.  

Further reading: Moving to Dubai – the challenge of new markets

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.