Culture Eats Purpose for Breakfast

The Purpose Fallacy

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

You may have noticed one of the current management fads is that every organisation needs to be purpose-driven as this is said to be the only way to ensure engaged staff and loyal customers.

The extent of interest in this can be gauged by searching “Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization” on Google which at the time of writing returned 185 million results!

This brief article will discuss the key ideas presented in the HBR article, Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization, which explores the dangers of being ‘purpose-driven’ when it is not appropriate and suggests an alternate approach.


The authors suggest that much of the challenge with defining an organisation’s purpose is the fact the word purpose has multiple meaning. The three meaning relevant here are,

“a need”, which the author’s label as competence, the function that the product or service serves.

“determination or a feeling of having a reason for what you do”, labelled as culture, which includes the intent with which a business is run.

“why you do something or why something exists”, a cause, the social good to which the business aspires.

Be Authentic

The key take-away is that an organisation should only rally around a cause if they really have one.

It is suggested that discussions to try and identify a purpose typically start by trying to answer the question, ‘how would the world be worse off if we did not exist?’. This leads to a search for an inspiring social goal that the organisation can aspire to.

As few business operate in industries where a compelling answer to this question can be found, this is a futile search and is particularly the cases for B2B or commodity businesses.

Culture Eats Purpose for Breakfast

Given the above, pursuing an inappropriate purpose will lack authenticity. A disingenuous corporate purpose will not act to produce engaged staff or loyal customers. What to do?

It is suggested that a pragmatic and genuine option is a culture based purpose statement.

As B2B business stakeholders are primarily interested in what the organisation is like to work with the culture base purpose statement will generally be more effective.


The key take-away for me from this article is that being authentic is imperative.

If your business is one of the few that can authentically define a social purpose, go ahead and articulate that.

For the others, define and build a strong, authentic culture which will enable you to engage with your staff and customers.

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Patrick Berry

Patrick Berry

Industrial Process Control, Operational Technology, Industry 4.0, Cybersecurity, Digital TX, AI, ML, Data Analytics