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Build your organizational identity

The three elements of a coherent and complete identity—purpose, value, and culture—can help organizations thrive long term.
Alexander DiLeonardo

Advises executives across industries on organization transformation; coleads our portfolio of digital and analytics tools to accelerate impact on talent, operating model, culture, and change management topics

Nikola Jurisic

As a senior expert in culture and change, a facilitator, and a coach, counsels public- and private-sector leaders on building values-driven systems

Bill Schaninger

Designs and manages large-scale organizational transformations, strengthening business performance through enhanced culture, values, leadership, and talent systems

Have you ever wondered how organizations can have beautiful visions and values statements on their walls, but walking through their hallways leaves you with a different impression? It often feels like two different worlds—what is said and what is real.

However, organizations cannot afford this misalignment; without clear connections among why they exist (purpose), what they offer (value agenda), and how they operate (culture), they will struggle. Organizations of the future have closed this gap by articulating an identity and translating it from the organizational to the individual level and communicating the implications of the identity for each human in the organization. A coherent and complete identity includes these three elements: purpose, value, and culture.

  1. Set an actionable purpose to find your ‘why’

    An organization’s purpose should start with a concise and inspiring statement that articulates how it will use its superpowers to make its contribution to the world. A good purpose is both inspiring and actionable. For a purpose to be actionable, it needs three things:

    • A small set of purpose themes (about three) that focus on who and what an organization cares about.
    • A set of bold, 10- to 30-year commitments for each theme. A bold commitment could be reaching carbon net neutrality by 2050.
    • One- to five-year metrics assigned to each bold commitment. To achieve carbon net neutrality, a company might aim to install green technologies by a certain date.

    By taking this approach, an organization can translate its long-term purpose into a set of practical and clear current objectives that connect to the value agenda.

  2. Connect your purpose to your value agenda

    A purpose only produces results when an organization translates it into a strategy with a value agenda that aligns the organization with value creation. The strategy should articulate the workstreams and initiatives needed to achieve the metrics articulated in the purpose, linking them to actual jobs to be done that create value for those the organization cares about.

    Thus, the purpose and value agenda are seamlessly connected from the purpose statement down to initiative charters to be implemented the same year. Creating this link not only aligns the board, C-suite, and management but orients the organization toward a common purpose.

    The value agenda should also connect to the organizational structure: Leaders should identify the critical roles that will help the organization achieve its purpose and ensure that the right talent is in place for each role.

  3. Define behaviors for culture that enable your value agenda

    By intentionally shaping its culture, an organization can rapidly and sustainably capture value. However, culture only becomes how the place is run when an organization expects concrete, specific, and observable behaviors. These behaviors should be articulated at the organizational and individual level and linked to a specific organizational value. For example, an execution-focused culture that concentrates on continuous operational improvement could require the following behavior as an example of excellence: “Sticks to procedures and continuously takes action to improve them.”

    One leading global metals player underwent a complete identity redefinition in less than six months. To begin, the organization involved all stakeholders, including all staff, in an extensive listening process designed to review and update the organization’s identity.

    The process produced a purpose statement (to evolve and refresh the vision statement) with three purpose themes and two bold, multidecade commitments for each theme, such as reducing the risk of harm to zero and doubling the organization’s GDP contribution within the countries it operates. These commitments were further broken down into clear one- to five-year metrics. Upon finalizing the themes and commitments, the company developed a visual representation of the identity, which serves as a continuous visual reminder and guide for employees.

Only by creating a coherent and complete identity can organizations thrive in uncertainty, contribute to the world, deliver superior value, and create meaning for their people.

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This blog post is part of a series on Organizing for the Future, which explores a set of new principles such as anti-fragility and experimentation that are becoming increasingly critical for today’s organizations as they build more creative, adaptable, and human systems.

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