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Shifts leaders are making to build their organization’s identity from the bottom-up

By shifting to a bottom-up approach, leaders can develop a stronger organizational identity and enable their organization to get ahead of the curve.
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

Taylor Lauricella

Advises organizations on a range of culture and talent topics with particular expertise in driving behavior change at scale through capability building, cultural transformation, and digital solutions

Bill Schaninger

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

Alexandra Wood

Applies advanced analytics, behavioral science, and digital technology to enable organizational transformation

We all know the pace of change isn’t slowing down any time soon. However, we’re finding that organizations that endure and thrive in this environment are those with a clear and shared understanding of where they’re headed—that is, they have a clear sense of identity.

To build an identity that is lived, breathed, and—most importantly—shared by all, leaders need to make four shifts in how they run their organizations:

  1. From “Purpose statements on websites” to “Purpose as a daily compass”

    Organizations can only live their purpose when it is understood and shared by all. But building the purpose statement and cascading it will only go so far. To help create a purpose-driven organization, leaders must take the time to listen to employees regarding how they experience purpose, empower employees to find their individual purpose, and evaluate the impact it drives over time.

    And purpose pays off: According to our research, more than 80 percent of outperforming companies are making bold moves in how they define and live their purpose, such as deploying apps to help employees find their own individual purpose.

  2. From “Strategy for all” to “Strategy at every level”

    Strategy only translates into meaningful results when there are “jobs to be done.” Just as leaders focus on the value agenda and direction of the organization, there needs to be an equal emphasis on translating organizational goals into clearly defined responsibilities, tasks, and KPIs—and building awareness across all layers. This then forms the foundation for team and individual goal setting, creating a virtuous cycle of active performance management and shared sense of achievement at every level.

    Companies that disaggregate the strategy down to the individual level capture an additional 63 percent increase on their total return to shareholders (TRS).

  3. From “One shared culture” to “Culture as a behavioral umbrella”

    Culture only becomes accepted as “how we run the place” when the behaviors and habits that drive the strategy are clearly decided, shared, and contextualized based on where employees are in their own journeys. This is not to say that leaders should not strive to have a cohesive culture. Rather, there is an opportunity to create overarching cultural pillars that guide how the organization operates and then map out what it looks like to live these celebrated behaviors, for example as a newcomer versus a more tenured colleague.

    Our research found that over 20 percent of outperforming companies are experimenting with new cultural initiatives, such as rolling out shortlists of priority behaviors that define what great looks like, whether for an individual contributor in the home office or a people leader in a manufacturing plant.

  4. From “One size fits all” to “One size fits one”

    Doing this at scale requires building the purpose, the strategy, and the culture from the bottom-up. Leaders need to go to all individuals all the time to provide everyone—especially those at the front-line—with the tools to find their own purpose, define their own goals, and link their own day-to-day behaviors to the organization's broader aspiration.

    For example, a global manufacturer launched an app for front-line employees that provided personalized coaching to help people reach the company’s safety goals and targets. However, unlike traditional efforts, all content was tailored to each individual to help them best address the roadblocks standing in their way, while also moving the organization closer to its strategic goals.

By shifting to a bottom-up lens for approaching purpose, strategy, and culture, leaders are able to develop an organizational identity that is stronger than ever before and enable their organization to get—or remain—ahead of the curve.

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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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