People + Purpose

Steelcase leads through research and insights, especially on human behavior. Here are highlights of an article from their latest 360 magazine edition.

Imagine you’ve just been assigned to work on a high-profile team. Your job is to lead culture change at your company to help build transparency, trust and collaboration. It’s a CEO directive based on his future vision as well as some expensive research from a well-respected consultant. But one of the first things you’re required to do is sign an internal non-disclosure agreement, ensuring you won’t share what your team is doing with the rest of the organization.

Or you walk into the corporate headquarters of a large manufacturer that’s seeking to revitalize its iconic brand with new products. Its leaders are trying to bring more style and cachet to the company’s image with a new design-focused advertising campaign, challenging employees to think innovatively to bring new energy to the culture. Yet, this company’s workspace dates back to the 1920s, punctuated by rows of highly traditional, dated private offices converted from manufacturing space.

Stories like these—where employee realities contradict the organization’s purpose—are all too commonplace. “We see this all the time,” says Jennifer Jenkins, leader of practice of the Steelcase Applied Research + Consulting team (ARC). “Purpose, or meaning, is one of the key components of employee engagement.”

With the new economic realities of intense global competition, employee engagement is a must-have for today’s organizations.

“We see purpose as living at the intersection of strategy, brand and culture,” she explains. “When those three converge, engagement thrives and ultimately so does the organization. We identify strategies to improve the everyday work experience and help organizations express their purpose so they can truly thrive.”


As momentum for the emerging purpose economy continues to mount, organizations will be challenged to re-examine practices, beliefs and values. They’ll be challenged to overcome behavior versus expectation gaps, to create new policies and rethink their spaces to reinforce a purpose-driven culture. As the drive for meaning permeates culture, it will redefine how we work, the organizations we prefer to work with and how we make choices. In response, vanguard companies are rediscovering their purpose, learning to articulate it clearly, and putting tools in place to ensure employees are connecting with it every day. In this new era of meaning, purpose is the new job description.


When working with clients to help express and strengthen a sense of purpose, ARC asks them to consider their current state. Often these conversations reveal gaps between the reality and an ideal state, leading down a strategic path to infuse purpose into everyday workplace experiences.

If your organization seeks to guide culture and behaviors toward a greater sense of purpose, here are some questions to ponder.

By addressing these questions at all levels, organizations can begin to infuse purpose into their everyday workplace experiences.

  1. Is the purpose clear?
  2. Do people at all levels understand it?
  3. Does achieving the purpose seem both aspirational and feasible?
  4. Does it motivate action?
  1. Is our work experience designed to link our skills/capabilities to accomplish something for the organization?
  2. Does the purpose build community?
  3. Do people believe that we are better together?
  4. Is it safe to challenge the status quo?
  1. Do I understand our purpose?
  2. Is there a clear line of sight?
  3. Can I see my contributions impacting our purpose?
  4. Do I find the work personally compelling and meaningful?
  5. Do I believe in the work that I do?
  6. Do I have an opportunity to learn and grow?

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Collaboration, Insights