‘How can we help our employees, teams and the whole organisation to be genuinely purpose-led?’
This question was brought to us by ‘Member Bank’ (fictitious name), which had undergone an initiative to refresh their organisational purpose and wanted to understand the extent to which the refreshed purpose had truly landed throughout the organisation. We’ll call it ‘Member Bank’ (fictitious name).
The Purpose Maturity Journey is the overarching story. It emerged from combining rounds of productive conversations with Member Bank about what ‘good’ purpose-led behaviour should look like, and the insights gathered in a mixed method behavioural exercise conducted by the FSCB Insights team to ascertain the extent to which these were demonstrated by employees.
The ultimate goal of Member Bank’s refreshed purpose – the final destination of the journey – was to become a genuinely purpose-led organisation.
From joint reflections between FSCB Insights and the culture team at Member Bank, we understood this to mean balancing the needs of all stakeholders in every decision, practice, process or business outcome, putting people and relationships before products and transactions.
The baseline on that journey, shown at the bottom of Figure 1, is a series of four stages of increasing maturity, from Resistance to Purpose Led. Resistance is when employees are cynical or sceptical about whether the firm is serious about embedding purpose or the value of purpose more broadly. Immature purpose is when purpose is only partially understood or there is a belief that the interest of one stakeholder (e.g., customers) is more valuable than others.
Purposeful means that employees can articulate the organisational purpose, and/or feel a sense of connection both as an individual and as a team. Sometimes, it is also seen as a way to overcome past mistakes in the banking industry. Being Purpose-led means that purpose is an inseparable part of employees’ daily routines, their organisational objectives and an integral component of decision making (without having to be asked).
How we designed our purpose maturity journey
The Purpose Maturity Journey was born from a mixed-methods approach undertaken by FSCB Insights.
Since 2016, Member Bank’s results from the FSCB Employee Survey have identified three ‘constituencies’ where employees perceived organisational culture differently: business area, seniority level and proximity to customer. Member Bank’s historical data showed that:
By business area, responses from Retail and Commercial Banking were significantly more favourable across most characteristics of the firm’s culture than those from Functions and Investment Banking, the latter being the most unfavourable.
By seniority, employee perceptions became more favourable in line with their level of seniority. The favourable perceptions among more senior leaders differed significantly from the (intermediate) perceptions of middle managers and even more so relative to those in operational positions.
By proximity to customers, some differences were evident between customer-facing and non-customer-facing roles on some characteristics of culture. The most significant was that customer-facing employees felt more encouraged to provide customers with information that helps them make the right decisions but were also more likely to feel under pressure to perform at work.
These distinct patterns among employees were central to the design of a behaviourally informed qualitative assessment, designed to maximise the insights gained from a small number of participants.
How we used behavioural science to design focus groups
We conducted 24 small online focus groups with three to four participants, each lasting 50 minutes.
Each focus group session was designed to add relevant information about all three constituencies. Each business area contributed with six focus groups. Among these, three groups were made up of employees in front-line positions and three not in front-line positions. One of these three groups comprised only senior managers, one comprised only middle managers and the other comprised employees in operational roles.
This arrangement allowed us to examine six groups per business area (and ignore seniority and proximity to customers). We also had 12 groups of employees with and without front-line responsibilities (ignoring business area and seniority). We had eight groups per seniority level (ignoring business area and proximity to customer).
The focus groups used insights from the behavioural sciences to maximise the learnings from each participant, to capture the multiple ways in which they were influenced by organisational purpose at work.
Immediately before the session, each focus group participant completed a short survey, which included the free-text question: ‘What does it mean to be purpose-led?’ The participants then joined the virtual room to discuss a myriad of topics, including work adaptations due to the pandemic, wellbeing and business decisions, without any deliberate reference to purpose by the facilitator. We later analysed the transcripts to identify if and how participants voluntarily referred to organisational purpose and/or made purpose-aligned points.
In the second half of the session, the facilitator shared a screen with the organisational purpose and observed how much the discourse changed as a result of this more formal prompt. Before the end of the session, each participant was asked to give a summarising statement to the group, once again around the question ‘what does it mean to be purpose-led?’
This session design aimed to stimulate thinking about purpose from various angles – personal thoughts (the free-text question), group discussion with and without explicit prompts, and making a closing statement at the end of an intense discussion. It also explored different communication modes: written, prompted and unprompted free speech and a more formal statement.
Figure 3 shows the estimated purpose maturity by seniority. Each point represents one focus group participant. The figure shows that senior managers were more consistent in their purpose maturity, although the concentration was around being ‘purposeful’ instead of ‘purpose-led’. There was a larger spread in the level of maturity among middle managers and a larger one again among operational positions. The latter was partially attributable to the diversity of operational positions covered in the focus groups.
To produce these estimates, the transcriptions from the focus groups and the pre-session written responses from each participant were manually categorised to produce an overview of all angles of purpose that participants brought to the discussion. The main topics emerging across all participants (‘categories’) were graded from 1 to 12, as shown in the Purpose Maturity Journey: 1 for cynicism; 2-4 for narrow or less mature points; 11-12 for purpose-aligned points/ examples. The scores per participant were organised on a scale for each constituency.
The delivered report also included anonymised verbatim quotes (not included here to protect confidentiality) that exemplified the most frequent points raised whenever the scale showed a concentration of data points.
Figure 3: Individual responses were rated by how the focus group content was categorised in the Purpose Maturity Journey (Resistance=1 point; Immature = 2 to 4; Purposeful = 5 to 8; Purpose-led= 9 to 12 points). Where more than one category was mentioned by the same participant, the score is the average of those mentions. For example, if someone explained the organisational purpose (‘purposeful/ expanded purpose = 5)’ but then said ‘but in reality, I don’t believe it’ (resistance = 1), this would score the average of (1+5)/2 = 3 and therefore place the participant into ‘immature’ on this scale.
This created an accessible visual aid that helped communicate the conclusions to the research stakeholders and direct management’s attention towards the specific challenges in each constituency. For example, the concentration of senior managers around Purposeful suggested that the refreshed purpose had perhaps not permeated the organisation to the extent desired and that there was room to test some organisational initiatives to help them become more purpose-led.
The report included suggestions from employees themselves on how Member Bank could help them become more purpose-led. Many participants felt motivated by having a sense of purpose in their jobs. Purpose gave them meaning, pride and direction. However, their understanding and clarity of how purpose could be enacted in their daily decisions varied, thus suggesting that management should consider taking a more tailored approach to each constituency.
The assessment also indicated a number of ways in which senior leaders could do this, from the perspective of the participants. For example, they emphasised the need for guidance on linking work roles, objectives and purpose. They asked for a simplified training offer grounded in the refreshed purpose, with time created to learn, and clear and consistent communication across the organisation about priorities, and how these link with the refreshed purpose.
Sharing the lessons from case studies
Learning what an organisation has done to address a common challenge shared by others in the industry can be a powerful source of inspiration. Case studies allow us to step into the reality of others, to share their challenges and aspirations, while learning about their successes and failures. As we step back into our own reality we may ponder if an adapted version of that solution can help us too.
Creating the Purpose Maturity Journey was a journey in itself. We saw a multi-faceted picture about how purpose came to life at Member Bank. We also saw how it sometimes stayed hidden or became misaligned by processes and decisions, especially in pressured situations and with challenging deadlines.
The Purpose Maturity Journey offered a visual aid that easily communicated these critical nuances. While it is sensible to expect variances in purpose maturity across employees, it became clear that further work was needed to embed the refreshed purpose in specific constituencies within Member Bank. Enabling employees to become genuinely purpose-led in their daily actions required both guidance and empowerment.
While the purpose journey in other organisations will always differ from the story at Member Bank, it is possible that some version of the Purpose Maturity Journey can help create a bigger picture and (re)direct resources and management efforts in the right direction.