A Three-legged Stool Approach to Balance Purpose, Culture and Strategy 

Business team on a meeting

By Marcus Wylie 

Picture this: your organisation is a three-legged stool, and for it to stand tall, each leg—purpose, culture, and strategy—must remain strong and stable. If these do not balance, your stool risks an ungraceful tumble. 

You can follow this three-legged stool approach to establish strength and unity within your teams to help retain talent, empower connections and encourage creativity…  

1. Create purpose at a collective and at an individual level 

One leg of your stool is purpose, or what we fondly call “ikigai” at Insights—an anchor for your teams, akin to a sturdy tree trunk providing stability while allowing agile growth in the branches as the team stretches its limits.  

Our Hybrid Working Report confirms that a shared purpose is the key to collective growth, agility, and a culture woven with threads of trust. Crafting a compelling purpose for your organization or team isn’t just a checkbox; it’s the magnetic force that authentically binds your people, fostering talent retention and cultivating a thriving working culture. 

In the realm of Gen-Y and Gen-Z in particular, work is not just about punching in and out—it’s about waking up with a sense of purpose, a cause that propels them out of bed, eager to make a meaningful impact. Your organization should be more than a workplace; it should be a canvas for purposeful creation. 

Purpose is the raison d’être – a clear articulation of why your organization does what it does. Take Insights, for instance, where our purpose is to “create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do.” Many of our colleagues join, stay, and go above and beyond daily to bring this purpose to life. 

For seamless integration of purpose, consider these recommendations: 

  • Embark on a collective journey to explore or revisit your purpose as a group, building connections across all levels through team-building exercises conducted off-site. 
  • Once defined, embed it into the very DNA of your organization through comprehensive onboarding materials, internal communications, and purposeful behaviours that leaders both exemplify and acknowledge in their teams. This way, your purpose becomes more than words—it becomes a living, breathing aspect of your organizational culture. 

2. Create leaders as sherpas and not teachers to cultivate culture 

It is a well-known saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This isn’t just a nice sentiment. If your focus leans heavily on strategy while neglecting the alignment of your culture, your stool will waver and may even fall. A concerted effort on the leg of culture becomes imperative to realign everyone.  

To cultivate the desired culture, take a close look at how your leaders lead. Consider flipping the traditional hierarchy on its head—invite your leaders to transform into mentors or sherpas, guiding your teams rather than metaphorically standing on a pedestal dictating directives. 

Stepping away from the elevated platform and adopting more of a NPC (Non-Playing Character) role, drastically reducing the teacher/tell methodology, is a bold and courageous move. This shift encourages leaders and team members alike to think independently and make decisions on their own, fostering a culture where creativity thrives, alignment is achieved through actions, and the essence of your strategy is nurtured from within.  

This not only propels you toward your collective purpose each day but also serves as the ultimate destination—a place where your organization flourishes in its reason for existence. It’s a journey worth taking for sustained success. 

3. Have a clear strategy (but don’t forget about behaviours) 

Of course, strategy is paramount for the success and sustainability of any enterprise and an essential third leg on the stool. It serves as the guiding framework that aligns an organization’s resources, activities, and goals to achieve a coherent and purposeful direction. A well-defined strategy provides clarity to the workforce, ensuring that everyone is working towards common objectives.  

Let’s chat about the quieter but equally important world of cultivating behaviours. Strategies may shift like sands, adapting to what suits your organization now, next, and later. However, behaviours need a bit more attention to evolve and align with your strategic goals. 

Purposeful leadership behaviours guide the way, setting an example for everyone in your organization. However, if your behaviours are lacking, beware of the potential clash between culture and strategy—it might become a recurring theme until you make the necessary adjustments.  

Cultivating leadership behaviours creates a certain spirit or morale to help your teams pivot or overcome challenges and change within your organisation and helps you to win more naturally in the marketplace and achieve strategy.  

What’s the key to success? Be purposeful, collaborative and open when choosing these behaviours. Prioritising culture over strategy for the right amount of time, is not a bad choice to make! 

Work it out as a collective organisation 

The key to successfully aligning these three legs of the stool is ensuring that everyone is on board for the journey: leaving anyone in the organisation behind risks toppling the entire stool. 

Here at Insights, we embarked on a thrilling journey of discovery. Starting with our purpose—the heartbeat of our existence—we then collectively forged our dynamic strategy and pinpointed the cultural shifts needed to bring that strategy to life. 

Innovation is the secret sauce for building collective momentum in a positive direction. Picture this: we threw away the rulebook and turned our recent three-day Global Leadership Meeting in Belfast into a gamified adventure. No mundane PowerPoint slides or keynote speeches; instead, teams engaged in treasure hunts across the city, donned different coloured hoodies for team games, and immersed themselves in creative challenges. The result? A concoction of empowerment, ownership, growth, and a fresh legacy. 

Let this new dawn be the spark that revitalizes you and your organization. Forge ahead with purpose, culture, and strategy hand in hand—uniting them like the unshakeable legs of a three-legged stool. Because when these elements align, you and your teams stand strong and in perfect harmony, ready to conquer whatever lies ahead!

About the Author

Marcus WylieWorking with Insights since 2001, Marcus Wylie is currently Head of Culture. Over the years he has led the creation of just about every product that Insights has to offer, partnering with some of the world’s leading organisations around the globe to build, pilot and implement new products. He holds vast experience in delivering virtually and face to face with multi-hundreds of people, as well as facilitating intimate, purposeful and high-impact workshop experiences with leadership teams and Executives. 

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