The powerful process of refreshing your purpose and values

Many organizations are navigating significant upheaval right now. They could be experimenting with new ways of working, like hybrid or remote; implementing new technologies or upgrading core systems; or reorganizing their workforce and processes due to a layoff, merger or acquisition. 

We’ve spoken before about the importance of your organizational foundation, and when it might be time to revisit your purpose, values and vision. These concepts provide a shared language that can connect and engage employees, inform decision-making and drive organizational strategy as conditions change and your organization evolves.

When we help organizations define or refresh elements of their organizational foundation, they often tell us that the process itself is transformative. It’s not just about the artefacts – those statements that articulate what’s important to them – it’s the journey they take to develop them together.

In this post, we’ll explore the reasons why this process can be so powerful.

It’s employee-centred

Our process for refreshing an organization’s foundation is rooted in empathetic research designed to unearth the core themes that inspire people across your organization and motivate them towards common goals.

When we are brought in, it’s often to uncover the gaps or challenges between an organization’s current state and where and how they aspire to be. This process can provoke difficult conversations that require safety so people can express opinions that expose the most sensitive aspects of the workplace experience.

Participants always value the opportunity to share their experiences – both positive and negative - and they care deeply about the outcomes. Ultimately, they feel they have an opportunity to influence the future or the organization, so they have a sense of time well spent. They get to share what they know best – their own experiences.

We focus on creating space for the right conversations to happen. Workshops often reveal important and honest issues. Most employees truly care about their organization, and they want to contribute to positive change.

Toni Albert, Habanero experience designer, has guided many leaders and their teams through the process of defining or refreshing their purpose and values.

“We’ve heard that Habanero workshops can feel a bit like therapy,” she says. “It can get emotional, especially if we’re working with teams who are processing change and uncertainty. This is a safe space with a neutral party where people can share their honest feelings.”

Pro tip

A third party offers an objective lens. Experienced researchers and consultants can ask probing questions, introduce different perspectives, and create safe spaces for employees to have difficult conversations. If your organization is looking to update its purpose and values, you need to look for a partner who is willing to be candid with you and push your organization to think differently about what your values can do for your people and your impact. You also need an advisor who can help you gauge the level of effort it would take to make them feel lived within the organization.

It’s co-creative

Crafting purpose and values statements is an iterative and collaborative process. Before we jump into wordsmithing, we identify the themes that emerged from the research and validate them with advisory groups, such as:

  • Core working group – A dedicated and active team who review research and co-create recommendations
  • Values champions – A larger group of people who advocate for these new ideas across the organization
  • Key stakeholders – Leaders representing various operational aspects of the business, such as HR/People, Finance, Communications, different lines of business, and your CEO

The themes form the foundation for new statements, which take shape with employee input. Together, we refine the language to ensure the purpose and values will resonate with employees today and will serve to drive your organization forward.

This co-creative process ensures that you won’t have to sell these ideas to employees because the statements are based on their real experiences and articulated in language that makes sense to them.

“Crafting purpose and values is about putting words to the intent of the themes,” explains Habanero Senior Consultant Barbara Richards. “We know we have the right language when the words feel right – as if they have always been true – even though the statements will be new.”

Ciara Glen Manager of Organizational Design Bird Construction
Habanero pushed us to keep the language in the statements aligned with what they heard in the workshops, so they sound down-to-earth and authentic, which has made it so easy for employees to understand and connect with them.

It’s action-oriented

If your organization has been struggling to activate change for a while, employees might be jaded about any process. In some cases, they may have already shared their feelings, thoughts and experiences many times through feedback surveys or in meetings and nothing has changed.

To rebuild trust with employees, organizations need to make sure purpose and values aren’t just posted on a wall and forgotten; they need to drive real culture change. This can happen when:

  • Leaders are clear on their role in supporting the ideas.
  • Purpose and values are integrated into work plans, strategies, frameworks and decisions.
  • Values behaviours are reinforced, modelled and supported at all levels.

To ensure organizations take meaningful, sustained action, we help them create a backlog of communications and planned activities to:

  • Activate their purpose values.
  • Identify and nurture champions.
  • Define measures for success and monitor effectiveness.

The backlog captures a broad spectrum of coordinated activities, channels and methods to help integrate the purpose and values into the organization and bring them to life for employees. It requires a mindset of continuous evaluation, reflection and learning rather than just “ticking boxes”. The governance of the values backlog is a shared responsibility that requires a willingness to re-prioritize or adapt when necessary.

“Bringing the purpose and values to life is a combination of identifying, rallying and recruiting accountability for elements of the backlog,” says Habanero Senior Advisor, Workplace Experiences, Caterina Sanders. “Just as key stakeholders and research participants come from all corners of the organization, the governance model should also reflect a diversity of functions and perspectives.”

It's also important to share back or “close the loop” with employees and participants about what actions you are taking (and not taking) to support the organizational change you are striving to achieve.

Andria Ink Project Manager BC Hydro
This work has been eye-opening. It’s helped us sharpen the stories we’re telling and align our communications, marketing and digital efforts, so we’re all connected and aligned on our key messages.

It’s engaging

Rolling out the purpose and values is an opportunity to get creative and invite everyone to explore how they can show up at all levels of the organization. We’ve helped many organizations identify ways to successfully – and authentically – embed the purpose and values ideas and language into their culture. Here are some touchpoints and ideas that show up time and time again:

  • Storytelling – Use social tools like Viva Engage to crowdsource examples of the purpose and values in action.
  • Communications – Weave the purpose and values language into newsletters, intranet content, and social posts; printed postcards, posters and display boards help reinforce the ideas.
  • Team activities – Gather people together to dig into the values and explore the behaviours that drive each value to get a sense of how they can show up in the workplace.
  • Town Halls – Open a dialogue where employees can hear from leaders directly about what the purpose and values mean to them and engage in conversation.
  • Programs – Embed the values in your recognition, coaching and mentorship programs or employee awards. Employees can recognize or nominate a coworker for demonstrating one of the values.
  • Establishing team or organizational norms – Use the values to guide decisions around new ways of working together – for example, in hybrid or remote-first teams.
  • Recruitment and hiring – Revise your job descriptions to attract applicants who are more closely aligned with the purpose and values of your organization.
  • Interactive games – Create quizzes, activities or puzzles that help people deepen their personal connection to the ideas in a fun way.

In each of these initiatives, leaders play a vital role.

“Leaders are highly visible, critical champions for the change and possibilities they see for their future organization,” says Habanero Practice Lead, Culture and Transformation, Mallory O’Connor. “By sharing their vision and authentic excitement for bringing the new values to life, they give employees permission to feel it too.”

Jon Hoerauf CEO Herschel Supply Co.
I’ll never work for a company that doesn’t have a strong purpose and values embedded in the organization. If it doesn’t exist, it’s one of the first things I’d do.

Empowering people to change with confidence

Refreshing your organization’s foundation helps reinforce and deepen employees' connection to each other and their work. It puts language to the ideas in a way that makes them easier to share, support and open space for additional conversations. But the journey itself is powerful too, because it engages employees in building their own future, so they have a sense of ownership and investment in its success.  

Stories say it best.

Are you ready to make your workplace awesome? We're keen to hear what you have in mind.

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