“In my 30 years at the Bank I cannot remember an initiative that has had anything like this impact.”
A European Bank employing over 150,000 people had made a high-performance culture and articulating ‘purpose’ a top priority. Purpose was well received in internal surveys. Yet it made little difference to engagement scores. The leadership team couldn’t understand what was going on. Why was purpose not working?
The Bank decided to use the Contexis Index® , a measurement tool that we have developed with researchers at Cambridge University, to find out. It wanted to put some robust numbers around the impact of purpose and establish exactly how it was working to support organisational culture and where it was blocked.
They were shocked with what it revealed. What had long been thought of as an engagement problem that could be resolved through driving purpose was actually an issue of fundamental distrust. The Bank’s purpose was actually quite well understood. It just wasn’t believed or trusted.
The Index showed that less than 25% of employees really believed the purpose the Bank served. But this ‘high purpose’ group performed radically differently. Whether engagement, innovation, strategic clarity or happiness, those with a strong sense of the Bank’s purpose dramatically outperformed their peers. They were also 40% less likely to quit. Worse, nearly 30% of employees felt negatively about the Bank’s purpose. These individuals, concentrated in middle management, underperformed dramatically, particularly in terms of whether they trusted the Bank and its culture, whether they felt a sense of responsibility for its success, or understood and believed in its strategy.
The analysis was clear. There was nothing wrong with the Bank’s purpose. It just needed to be activated through a fundamental focus specifically on rebuilding trust, particularly amonst middle managers. The Bank took up the challenge, embarking on a structured programme of open conversations led by each team leader and Director.
Well-being and joyfulness
The results were extraordinary. In teams taking part in the programme behaviours jumped by an average 33% after only 6 months of participation. In particular, the critical measures of trust, openness and compassion increased by 40%. The source of all this was clear. Purpose was now working because it had been activated by trust; the negative purpose group had shrunk to less than 10%, whilst the high purpose group now represented over 50% of employees.
Most extraordinary of all, revenues in the pilot teams had increased by an average of 15% and this growth was attributed almost entirely to the increased motivation, clarity and sense of meaning of team members. As the Director in charge of the pilot commented, “we read these days that Purpose drives performance. In our case, this simply wasn’t true. What drove performance was actually trust in the purpose we served. And that allowed our teams to take real responsibility for performance. In 30 years at the Bank, I cannot remember an initiative that has had anything like this impact. The commercial return has been extraordinary. But, more importantly, the well-being and sheer joyfulness of our people have been transformed.”