PURPOSE + PLACE: Bringing shared purpose to life and putting it to work

Where brand and culture meet by design.

Where brand and culture meet by design.

Purpose is like oxygen for the soul; place is like oxygen for the workforce—they both work as a North Star. As people and professionals, our sole purpose is to provide an outlet for the soul through finding and then following a purposeful path to healthy profits, yes, but also to a healthy planet and the wellbeing of people — for prosperity. Purposeful work is a common social activity that gives us meaning, without which we are lost.

This blog outlines our look at the relationships among purpose, culture, brand and workplace design. Places are physical, places are social; a topic we will take up in detail later. As space is to house, place is to home. The workplace is the home of our individual and collective geospatial and emotional resources that we put to work and to make a difference. But for now we will focus on purpose.

Brand is culture inside out and culture is brand outside in.

Brand is culture inside out and culture is brand outside in.

Wellbeing and its’ precursor, purpose, are as much social as they are physical. The essence of that social space we like to call brand culture — after all, brand is culture inside out and culture is brand outside in, and the two can't be separated. Why is that important for the design world? And, then, how do you do that through design practice?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast and operations excellence for lunch and everything else for dinner.” ~ Bill Aulet

  1. The closer the match between an employee’s life purpose and the purpose of the company they work for, the more engaged, loyal and productive they will be.

  2. Brand, culture and purpose are experienced in the work PLACE as an integrated live and lived out message.

  3. People perceive a company’s purpose through the brand message it communicates. The workplace can be designed to increase the received strength and impact of that message.

If you are clear on your purpose and are living that out in coherence with your work your state of wellbeing will be enhanced.

The scope of what workplace designers need to think about is vastly widened within the context of the new social narrative. Workplace designers, concurrent with space characteristics, now need to think about what kinds of behavioral processes (e.g., wellness and mindfulness programs) and attitude forming processes (e.g., purpose finding and clarification) have to be brought into a more interdisciplinary design effort. In the words of Peter Block:

“The task of the social architect is to design and bring into being organizations that serve both the marketplace and the soul of the people who work within them. Where the architect designs physical space, the social architect designs social space.”

How do you do that? If you are tasked with designing these purpose-oriented workplaces, what are some design guidelines you can use?

1. Proactively manage social networks. First, you need to realize that people derive meaning and sense purpose from being enmeshed in social networks. The workplace is a major ‘place’ where networks operate — think of the good ol’ water cooler. Think campfires, community benches, neighborhood ‘parklets’. It works well in urban design, so bring it inside.                             

2. Purpose needs a place to be acted out. Secondly, view the workplace as a stage where purpose gets played out. You are a stage set designer. You want your ‘set’ to very visibly communicate your brand culture. Storytelling displays of company history, videos of customer testimonials. One of the strongest ways to ‘set the stage’ is the idea of a wall of fame celebrating organizational people and history, and dedicated to brand culture.

3. Use embedded technology to guide purpose finding. As technology marches on it will become more and more embedded into the workplace – not a separate add-on feature. Thirdly, develop, design and deploy a ‘personal purpose dashboard’ for each employee. The basic elements already exist but haven’t been integrated yet.

A couple of concluding thoughts on how to live workplace design and practice out. First, it is the organization’s responsibility to ensure the workplace promotes the linking of and overlapping of individual and organizational purpose. The very act of taking on that responsibility itself communicates a brand message of empathy with employees in a personal way.

Also, the design and execution has to be authentic. People can sense that. A common phrase in today’s workplace is ‘fake it until you make it’ as kind of a badge of lack of engagement — that is the polar opposite of what you should be doing. If your brand culture message and/or your public face of purpose is contrived, or fake, people will sense that and immediately check out or worse.

If you are serious about Working The Future! Today — intentionally co-creating a future better than the past — you may want to consider offsetting part for your facilities management expense from marketing. What do you want to communicate about your organization’s brand culture through your workplace design or lack of? What do you have to lose? Everything worth keeping… like your key employees.

Shared purpose and value will enliven your organization like nothing else.

Shared purpose and value will enliven your organization like nothing else.