SBM Articles


Culture Trumps Strategy, But Purpose Trumps Everything

by Judy Ryan

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In our culture-transformation projects, we have every employee (from CEO to janitor) work on defining their own purpose. Today I received this response: “I find it inappropriate and too personal to do this in a work setting.”

This is such a common reaction that I decided to share my reply:

“I hear your belief that creating and sharing purpose is inappropriate and too personal. I get that a lot. First of all, it is personal. That’s because we are persons and there’s nothing inappropriate about that. In fact, trying to avoid the personal is why we too-often support systems that foster inferiority feelings. What is happening in business (thank goodness) is that people are now urged to focus on why as the starting point for everything. That’s why Simon Sinek (and others like him) are so popular and why models like mine are trending. A lack of purpose individually AND collectively is THE number one reason we have an epidemic of disengaged employees (who lack intrinsic motivation and responsibility) and leaders who are left holding the bag for intention in an unbalanced, burdensome way. In reality, everyone’s purpose makes or breaks the excellence of the whole.

“When a person does not commit to a specific good to cause, one is more likely to operate from task orientation, or worse, from the ‘mood of the moment,’ setting off its own chain of events. It takes personal responsibility to say, ‘I’m committed to causing______at all times’ (e.g. ‘A Wow Experience Through Service’ per Zappos). Purpose provides evidence of a commitment to something bigger and better than lowest common denominator, and influences what otherwise tends to predominate: pessimism, cynicism, fear, and outdated, counterproductive, and unchallenged habits and limiting beliefs. A lack of purpose on the part of anyone hurts the entire group.

“People commonly resist committing to a purpose because it puts an end to laissez faire, ‘whatever’ intents where anything goes. It closes doors once kept ajar to doing what one ‘feels like.’ It also scares some because they worry they can’t live up to it so why commit at all? We won’t always live up to our purpose but without it, we are a ship without a rudder, nor a destination to move towards.

“Purpose also puts an end to victim behavior (resentful compliance) and resistance (reactivity and rebellion). I encourage you to meet with your mentor, leaders and/or me to move through any barriers you have regarding defining, sharing and recognizing why your purpose is a crucial requirement. The culture model your leaders have adopted is not only responsibility-based, but purpose-driven. That’s why every activity there opens with purpose.

“You are required to create it, share it, and build all your values, visions, goals, procedures and roles from your purpose. Having said this, I teach that no one blindly follow rules (resentfully comply). You must search your own heart and mind. I urge you to work through your resistance in order to align with this most basic requirement or determine if this is a game-changer for you. I know your team wants you in this culture AND your defined purpose is part of that. Thank you for keeping it real. The ball is in your court.”

Business is personal. As a business owner, I urge you to consider a responsibility-based, purpose-driven workplace culture. Let me know if I can help you build one that is personal while also highly professional and excellent!

Judy Ryan (, human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
Submitted 6 years 27 days ago
Categories: categoryThe Extraordinary Workplace
Views: 2722