The purpose of purpose is by now well established: It helps organisations attract and retain top talent, improve decision-making, and build trust with stakeholders, ultimately leading to increased success and a lasting positive impact.
So how do you develop and harness your purpose for growth?
We were in conversation with Patrick Mill and Vicki Baker, CEO and CPO respectively at Novia Wealthtime, a financial services organisation newly created by a merger of several businesses. Novia have ambitious 5 year targets for growth. And they knew that purpose would be a critical part of the plan for achieving it for the new structure.
Let’s set the scene…
We were in the slightly unique position of being created from three successful founder-led businesses, and we’d merged the best parts of all three. And we built a new exec team which was the start of our journey.
It was a huge opportunity for change. bringing different cultures together, the unique selling points of each of those businesses and making that work.
What was the catalyst for thinking about purpose?
We might be a Financial Services company but ultimately it’s a people business. We have a big responsibility to our clients – the people we serve – we hold their savings for their futures, and we employ just over 300 people, who are our business.
I love that our CEO talks about this being a people business. In a business the people are the assets and when they walk out the door, you don’t have anything
We wanted to create a different financial services organisation. Our industry has low trust issues and we were very aligned in terms of a different way to be, being transparent and authentic. So purpose was fundamental to that.
And there is a clear commercial element to this – people will pay for a good business that serves its customers, that looks after it’s staff. They are hugely more valuable than other businesses.
Tell us about your purpose journey.
We saw an opportunity for us to do it a different way and &us were fantastic in helping us on that journey. You have to be brave, you can’t be passive. You’ve kind of got to jump off the cliff!
Previously I’d tried different things around values and culture and behaviors and all of those things. If it’s authentic and people can get behind it, purpose makes a difference to a business.
And there has to be strong alignment from the CEO to have the freedom to do this and for it to be sustainable, if it was going to be something that will live through the organisation
Purpose is often something that’s up on a poster on the wall. But we knew we had to make it central to everything, what we stand for as a business, for it to come into our decision making.
Often in a corporate you’ve got a milestone plan, what’s important to you as an Exec and what’s important to your client. But rolling it out internally it often doesn’t land, it’s diluted and people don’t engage with it. Senior leadership have a huge part to play in role modeling and to create some momentum but the people need to own it and drive it, not the executive.
The start was the discovery process, Getting people in the organisation to start thinking about why we exist. it gave us an in depth learning about the culture, and what was important to people, why they would stay or go. And something quite magical happened. The depth of insight we got can take months or years to actually get to, but through the experimentation we did with the team, it’s been much quicker as a result.
We touched every single person in the organisation around the ‘why’ through the interaction of our culture club – a team who were all different levels in the organisation, different tenure, different experience. And they were asking different questions all the time. People would come back and react and say, no, I really don’t like that. I really like this, and I feel really passionate about that. And you could feel the energy in the organisation, whether that was online, or where we put things up in the office so that people could scribble down their thoughts. And that was a different way of doing things. These experiments were much stronger. The output we got and then the reaction to it compared to what I’d done in the past.
And it’s already showing through. We’ve done three different engagement surveys and our employee net promoter score is continuing to rise over that time.
And we have questions coming through to do with our behaviors and purpose, and that’s getting stronger. And both detractors and passives around the organisation and what it stands for are becoming much more positive. You can feel it. And it’s emerging.
Let’s get really tangible. Tell us about the steps you took. What did you do?
The first thing we did was to say we believe in a purpose led organisation. And that the purpose needs to be co-created. It’s not just a CEO thing.
Then there was the set up of the culture club, our group of about 10 to 12 people who were given the space and the time to go and discover. And we had to stand back and let them do it. At the same time we had the new executive team coming together. And then we brought culture club and their insights, and the executive team and senior leaders together.
It felt sometimes like, are we making progress? Are we going to ask another question again? It tested our patience but we did need to ask more questions, which in hindsight meant we went really deep and that’s really important. You’ve got to believe in the process, even if things are going slowly. You do find a rhythm with it, It would go slow, but then it go very quickly over because of that investment of time and energy meant that you could then go faster. We had to slow down to speed up.
And the organisation was going through change, what was happening to the wider organisation, was happening to the culture club. So you could see the organisation in the microcosm of that group. Who’s engaged. Who’s not, who’s really questioning how we go forward. who’s finding it really difficult.
The next big stage was when culture club took it out to the rest of the organisation. We had an all-hands and they’d prepared a video. And the first time that I saw it, it really hit. And it went beyond my wildest expectations.
There was so much excitement in the room around the purpose. We’re not all the way through the journey. At the moment it’s consciously embedded. People think about our purpose. But we’ll get to it being unconscious. to just be part of the way of life.
There was so much happening. We were also trying to kind of engage with our advisors, our customers. It would have been so easy to go. ‘Let’s just put this to one side and come back to it. But ultimately, we believed that purpose was always going to be a catalyst for us and we could have killed it if we’d stepped in.
There were behaviours that came off the back of this experimentation process, and we’re definitely learning that this is a muscle we’re going to build as an organisation. It allows us to keep an entrepreneurial spirit, because it keeps the fast pace, the innovation and new ideas.
We’ve trialed three different projects that are strategically important to us that have purpose right at the core, for example our rebrand. What does that look like from a purpose perspective? It isn’t just a logo, this is about who you become and your reputation.
We’re seeing people using it to make decisions, asking whether projects and objectives fit with our purpose. And it’s helping everyone steer the company in the same direction.
How is your leadership behaving around this?
We needed to kind of have the conversation with leaders that they were part of this.
So with &us helping, coaching leadership to think about their own individual purpose around why they’re here, and then linking that to the organisation’s purpose so senior leaders or ex co- are role modeling. If not, it just becomes a poster on the wall.
We’re very ambitious about the business we want to grow, and we talk about purpose as the anchor of the organisation. And when management leaders come into the business, that’s the bit we talk about. you can have technical ability, but ultimately you have to believe in your organisation, you have to believe in the strategy.
How do you manage those that don’t believe in the purpose and journey?
You will get this in any organisation, and there’s three things for me:
First is people adapt and learn at a different pace and you have to give people the space, and be patient.
Second, you need to allow people the space to question.
Third, to believe in an organisation, you have to believe in the strategy. And so this might not be the organisation for everyone. And that’s fine. It doesn’t make us or them bad. We want people here that are behind the purpose.
Engaging detractors and passives and having a real conversation with them is key. a lot of that is about just listening and creating the moment around dialogue and moving forward.
Has the purpose has given the business a competitive advantage?
We believe it has and I don’t think we are seeing the full potential of it yet. As an example we’ve now moved to transparent pricing which means we can have a mature relationship with our advisors and customers. The interest is in us working together. and being good for both organisations.
We are owned by good, active private equity investors and when they exit and we go through a sale process, having high engagement scores, and low attrition. really engaged people is hugely beneficial.
What, if anything, would you do differently if you were to do this again?
Respecting the role of Bravery. There will never be a right time. Stick with it, and trust the process. If you try and control it you’ll end up with a poster on a wall.
There was a lot of energy at the start and you need to keep that up. There’ll be times where you see it’s embedding and happening organically. But then you need to turn back up the heat and ask where it’s going, where’s the intention. You’ve still got to check back here and keep thinking about it. and keep questioning yourselves. Are you doing enough? Is there places in the organisation where this isn’t happening? Or where it it could happen more.
There was this great analogy of the balcony and the dance. When you’re curating you’re on the balcony and watching things happen. But sometimes you’ve got to get back in the dance to feel it and say, is it actually working? And then you can go back up to the balcony, how does it look from the bigger picture?
Finally, what is your one big take away?
The journey for our people has been hugely satisfying. The cultural change, the difference in the business today, to when we took it over and that purpose has been really central
For advice – Just be brave!
it’s important to just have fun and enjoy it along the way, because some of it is scary – is it going work? Is it not? It’s experimental, but have fun. Don’t try and have a full plan but have an intention and get behind it.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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To talk to us about how to uncover and embed your purpose, drop us a line at email@example.com
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