How to make your people 30% more engaged, 29% more joyful and 26% more productive. Easily.

What powers the performance of the most successful companies on the planet? What do they know that is lost on so many slow-moving traditional organisations?

It’s a question that we have spent the last couple of years researching with leading institutions including the Universities of Cambridge and Plymouth.

It’s a question we think we may have answered.

The purpose gap

That answer, of course, is rooted in the cultures of these organisations. Culture is unique to a particular organisation and takes years to build. But what if the key elements of how agile entrepreneurially-minded organisations behave could be codified and therefore replicated? What if it could be understood ‘at source’?


there’s a missing link between Purpose at the top and how it is received in the real business

Yes, it’s about clarity of purpose and that’s nothing new – 90% of CEOs now claim to be actively engaged in implementing or exploring Purpose. But it’s more nuanced than that. In large organisations, beset by complexity and legacy-thinking, there’s a missing link between Purpose at the top and how it is received in the real business.  That gap doesn’t appear in the best entrepreneurial businesses.

By studying the very best entrepreneurial thinking, combined with cutting-edge academic research, we believe we’ve identified why that is. It’s not about having a social purpose – it’s what you do with it.

Our research identifies 9 key attitudinal behaviours which drive business productivity and performance. And, in entrepreneurial businesses, these behaviours appear to be the outcomes of an actively engaged purpose. The key question is what is the source of these productive behaviours – and what is the missing link in more hierarchical, corporate organisations?


It’s not about having a social purpose – it’s what you do with it.

It’s clear that these ‘entrepreneurial’ behaviours are, to some degree, suppressed in most corporate organisations.  And the source of this appears to lie in a weakness in three key cultural markers; ownership, trust and contextual clarity. Research suggests that Purpose in the absence of these is unable support the positive performance behaviours typical in an agile culture.

A lack of ownership, trust and clarity creates a gap between purpose and people in the business.


And that’s where the Contexis Index® comes in. By understanding the cultural relationship between purpose and performance and codifying this, our research creates a tool that any business can use to transform its human capital and organisational performance.

The Index is a measurement tool that provides robust metrics that reveal how Purpose is working and where its effect is blocked.  It employs rigorous scales to assess a broad range of organisational performance metrics and links these back to Purpose through a defined set of cultural characteristics. The Index provides these metrics, in detail, by demographic (age, sex, seniority, time in business etc.) and location.

Data for the Index is gathered via a simple on-line Survey. Results are provided in a detailed Report with data presented graphically together with detailed analysis and recommendations. This will enable you to design highly targeted interventions to bridge the gap with a great deal of confidence since they are based on reliable empirical data.

And can the gap be bridged?

So far, the results of the initial companies to take the Index, whether they are entrepreneurial businesses or complex corporates, have been remarkable.

Purpose does drive performance. But only where it is activated.

Activated purpose leads to an average increase (over the median employee) of 30% engagement, 36% in openness to new ideas, 29% in joy and 26% in performance. And the results are showing how this activation is achieved and how to bridge the gap between stating a purpose and bringing it alive in the business.

As Rupert Lee-Browne, CEO of FX group Caxton, observes “Without Purpose, a company can only flipflop around without truly consolidated, effective effort. What Contexis has developed with its Index is a very clever way to measure the impact of Purpose on Performance, enabling companies to really motivate their teams. Contexis Index did it for Caxton”.

And this is where you come in..

We are now ready to open the analysis to the next tranche of companies. We have the research funding to conduct a pro bono analysis of a limited number of organisations and we are looking for some specific types and scales of organisations. I’d love to hear from you if you would like to know more.

By undertaking this analysis, you will develop remarkable insights into how purpose is working in your organisation and to what extent the key markers of ownership, trust and contextual clarity are activating purpose across the business.

You will also be supporting important research by contributing wholly anonymised date to the University of Cambridge.

To find out more about how the Contexis Index can transform the impact of Purpose in your business and how you can help in this important research please contact me at

To find out more about the thinking behind the methodology you might enjoy this short EthWord film 


John Rosling is a writer and lecturer on entrepreneurship, CEO of Contexis and Head of Thought at the Contexis Index; ever curious as to how entrepreneurial thinking is the key to activating purpose, stimulating agility and velocity and fulfilling human and commercial potential in global organisations.


Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

Our pick of the best FIVE articles for purpose-led leaders in 2017

Read, digest and critique our pick of the best 5 articles for purpose-led leaders in 201​7.

1.  The Aspen Institute: ​Can We Make It Safe (Again) for CEOs to Lead with Purpose?

Shortly before the end of the second World War, Fortune published a statement by a forward-looking group of American CEOs called A Framework for a Postwar Economy​”​​. The third sentence began, “The Economic system is a tool for achieving the common good..”  Profitability without advancing the common good was failure.

Today’s social and economic context is, once again, forcing business leaders to rethink what they were taught about the purpose of business. ​And CEOs need ​to talk about their company’s purpose, not just as a philosophy, but as a strategic tool that helps guide business choices.


2.  ​Havard Business Review: The Neuroscience of Trust

Building a culture of trust makes a meaningful, measurable difference to companies. And according to PwC’s 2016 global CEO survey, 55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation’s growth. But where do you start and how do you avoid ‘karaoke Friday’ and psychological fads?

Paul J Zak has been researching the relationship between trust and economic performance since 2001, both mathematically and behaviourally, and his article for HBR summarises the last ten years of neurological research as well as identifying eight management behaviours that build trust.


3. LSE: Performance needs purpos​e

The pay-for-performance practices that dominate the corporate world are built on a foundation of standard economic theory. People act in their own interests, so they’ll work harder if there’s money on the table.

Yeah, right. Just as behavioural economics has shown standard theory to be terrible at predicting human behaviour, there’s little connection between pay for performance and the volumes of academic research on motivation and goal setting…”it’s like we studied human behaviour and flipped the findings on their head.”

James Elfer argues that firms seeking higher performance should look to modern self-determination theory and encourage purposeful work to drive better performance.

4.  EY: How can purpose reveal a path through disruption?

“The human story as it’s unfolding now is a bit of a cliff-hanger,” says Valerie Keller, EY Beacon Institute Global Leader.  “Automotion, digitalization and ongoing economic and political volatility are inspiring a great searching of the corporate soul.  A new idea – and ideal – of successful business in the 21st century is emerging” purposeful business.” 

It is relatively easy for a company to adopt the rhetoric of a feel-good purpose that articulates an aspirational reason for being.  But actually living, breathing and effectively demonstrating a commitment to that purpose is an infinitely larger task.  Yet it is an effort that can pay off substantially in our disrupted world.  


5: Huffington Post: Purpose-Driven Business Can Help Rebuild Trust

Ah, trust. That old chestnut. Today, trust in government and other institutions, including business, is at an all-time low. But Paul Polman argues that with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we have a roadmap for shared purpose, and above all a partnership for the common good. It will take strong leadership and moral courage in order to bring purpose-driven, socially accountable business models from the margins to the mainstream.  If we can, then what better way to restore trust than with purpose? 

Entrepreneurial businesses know a simple truth; people who own also care

What drives agility in large, complex organisations? Most have spent a great deal of time, trouble and money creating and communicating a clear Purpose. And most are finding it’s making no difference to the behaviours in the organisation. There is a gap between the purpose at Board level and the experience of employees and customers.

Entrepreneurially-minded organisations achieve agility not by having a purpose but what they do with it.  These agile and entrepreneurially-minded businesses exhibit a clearly defined set of drivers within their cultures that are the secret to bridging the Purpose Gap.

The first of these, TRUST, we discussed in our previous article The second is a feeling of, and desire for, OWNERSHIP.

Unless everyone in the organisation feels – and feels allowed to feel – a powerful sense of ownership of the business, it will not flow through into agile employee behaviours.  Organisations in which everyone feels an emotional investment exhibit employee behaviours of alignment and engagement. If you feel you own something you can’t but care strongly about its success, and work enthusiastically towards that goal.

And there’s something even more powerful. People who feel ownership will also act autonomously to serve the good of the company, rather than wait to be directed. Autonomy is the source of agility in a world in which there just isn’t time any more to always be asking the boss.

[pullquote]If you feel you own something you can’t but care strongly about its success, and work enthusiastically towards that goal.[/pullquote]

These cultures find employees going out of their way to service customers beyond the call, find innovative solutions, and protect the company from harm.

Entrepreneurial businesses know a simple truth; people who own also care. Without ownership people agility is weak and customer value compromised.

So, how can complex corporate organisations, in which employees don’t meaningfully own the company, replicate the feeling of ownership typical in entrepreneurial businesses? How can they create Employee Agility through that desire for ownership?
[pullquote]Autonomy is the source of agility in a world in which there just isn’t time any more to always be asking the boss.[/pullquote]

Contexis Purpose Gap_v3_3The critical point is that a feeling of ownership has little to do with who physically owns the stock. It has everything to do with belief. And the simplest and most compelling route to creating a culture of ownership with its attendant benefits of Employee Agility is to create a belief in the ownership of the purpose the organisation serves. In doing so, everyone in the organisation will develop the mindset of the owner and have a sense of responsibility for outcomes.  

So, how is this achieved? By creating a critical shift in how people at every level of the organisation think and behave. The first step to creating a culture of ownership is to develop a culture of TRUST described in my previous article.

It’s then a matter of reframing the relationship between the company and the employees from one of control to one of self responsibility. It’s about creating a new adult-to-adult relationship in which every employee is given the opportunity to accept responsibility for outcomes and in which, in every team, people are acknowledged and rewarded for taking this self-responsibility. The critical building-block of this is in the relationship between each team member and their immediate boss and the way to do this is to provide managers with the skills and awareness of a new way of working. A way much more akin to entrepreneurial management.

This may sound a lot harder than it actually is. Assuming the purpose the business serves is authentic, compelling and well articulated, most people will instinctively feel a sense of ownership. If the business operates in a paradigm of trust (see article), most people will feel empowered to take responsibility. With consistent and effective management the transition from control to self-responsibility will be a natural process and the behaviours of engagement, autonomy and shared commitment will emerge.

And for those who don’t? Well, they leave.

To find out about the other key drivers of entrepreneurial agility in large organisations, read here and here.

You might also enjoy these articles:

‘Most big companies won’t have the velocity to see out the decade’. Survival tips from the ones wearing the running shoes.

How thinking like an entrepreneur could make corporate organisations 26% more productive

Purpose transforms performance. But if you can’t measure it how can you implement it?


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