The content presented in this work, while centering on building cultures of purpose in organizations, also focuses on sustainability because Lueneburger has determined from experience and research that sustainability provides the most reliable blueprint for assembling the building blocks upon which cultures of purpose are built over time. In this sense, sustainability is seen as a means to an end. As explained by the author, "purpose" introduces a shared intent with impact beyond the organization itself, a pledge to do what is thought to be right, going beyond profitable growth, shareholder value, or any other measure of whether things are being done right.
The author interviewed board chairpersons, CEOs, and chief sustainability officers during the course of writing this book, who have come to the conclusion that sustainability is a primary focus of new recruits who are looking not just for jobs but for meaning. As explained by the author in the introduction, mission-led companies vastly outperform the market, and so the time has never been so critical for leaders to focus on building cultures of purpose. The war for talent is real, and the talent economy is gravitating toward cultures of purpose where meaning is seen to be pervasive rather reflected in window-dressing policies about composting and charitable giving.
This book is organized into thirteen chapters across four parts that discuss placing leaders with a purpose at the core (about 40% of the content), hiring talent with a purpose at the frontier, building a culture of purpose, and taking action (one chapter at less than 10% of the content). Author discussion starts by identifying the competencies or acquired skills at the core of a culture of purpose, followed by detailing the key innate traits of people who make up a culture of purpose, addressing the broader attributes a culture of purpose needs to thrive, and developing an actionable plan to structure the building blocks of a culture of purpose.
As a reader, I probably found the most interest in the first part of this book, although I most valued the sidebars concluding almost every chapter, which list probing questions intended as follow-ups to author presentation, as well as red flags for which to look over the course of asking these questions. For example, the author provides the following as red flags after his chapter on openness: "The greatest challenge to openness is a tribal culture, which exacerbates low openness with a lack of balance. Balance, as a cultural attribute, describes the degree to which organizations not only include a diversity of perspectives, skills, and styles but also express, recognize, and leverage the resulting differences. And the less a culture is balanced, the more openness will suffer. If companies could get moldy, this would be how."
In contrast to a related book by Aaron Hurst that I recently reviewed, "The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community is Changing the World", Lueneburger provides a much narrower focus on sustainability as a means to an end, and concentrates heavily on organization level case studies rather than the larger economy, or for that matter, the individual. But in surveying all of the purpose-related texts in the marketplace, each has its purpose. This book is recommended to leaders of organizations looking at sustainability as a means to an end, and how to best draw and retain related talent, but if this is your focus, you will be well served by reading what Aaron Hurst has to offer as well.
The author provides some of his best thoughts in the epilogue, which will hopefully not be missed by readers who do not get to this point. "Throughout history, two conditions have caused cultures of purpose to wane: achieving their purpose or growing beyond the scale that can consistently contain it. Each of these two conditions brings up a key question to take on your journey. Regarding the first, what has to be true about your purpose for it to be itself sustainable? There's a fine balance between being aspirational and being quixotic. On the one hand, the purpose must be more than a cakewalk destination beyond which the bonds between the people reaching it will disintegrate."
"On the other hand, it cannot be so removed from reality that it fails to bond people together with a shared desire to achieve. The good news is that you have an actionable echo of your purpose in the quality of talent that flocks to you and stays with you: the people who make up your culture. As for the second condition, is growth - for example, growth in revenues - a reasonable strategic metric for an organization? It's certainly an effective metric for a cancer, but individual cancers are not around for long if they are successful."
"To be clear: there is nothing wrong with growth per se, but it should be a by-product of doing the right things, rather than the aim of doing things right. It's a good servant, but a terrible master. The kind of growth that markets have historically liked best - say, a steady 5 percent every year - is destructive to a culture of purpose because its constancy makes it the master of the organization. But here, too, we find good news. The steady-growth mentality is gutted by what we know about long-term value creation. Adherence to purpose trumps delivery of invariant growth."