- An intimate chat with Lowe's CCO Colleen Penhall who describes how the corporation arrived at its Purpose as well as tips you can follow –

Steve: What are the origins of Lowe's corporate purpose?

Colleen: Four years ago, we were going through a number of acquisitions and found ourselves asking “how do we galvanize all of these businesses that Lowe's now owns under a single unifying purpose, all aiming towards our north star?”

We talked about what we do but never why we do it. Previously, the vision we articulated was to be the first choice in home improvement. That’s not very inspirational. The reason you come to work every day is not because you want to be the first choice in home improvement.

We needed a lens for prioritizing what's best for the customer, not just what's most efficient or what delivers the best financial results. So the purpose was to identify, to unify and fuel our standing portfolio businesses and future growth opportunities. Having a purpose beyond making money almost always results in making more money.    

Steve: Was a special task force created for this, or was it corporate communications that took the lead?    

Colleen: It was really driven by our strategy department, with partnership from corporate communications and marketing. First, we asked leaders to define criteria for developing a purpose statement. We wanted to ensure there was authenticity. We wanted to include the voices of customers and employees, and identify best practices to feed and grow our purpose. 

The second step was talking to companies that were currently purpose driven. The third was to ask our employee base and customers to help us crystalize the opportunity. We set up focus groups with employees and asked, although not quite as overtly, "Why do you come to work every day? What drives you?" Through those conversations and through customer engagement, our purpose developed into “to help people love where they live.” We knew it was authentic to who we are.

For over a year, we focused on the purpose and values with our vice presidents and above, and then with a group that we called 'Front Runners,' several hundred associates from across our group who became our advocates. Our CEO was in front as the visionary. He was involved in everything from small group immersion sessions to large scale events. He started doing discussion lounges with employees to understand what it would take for us to fulfill our purpose, including barriers we needed to overcome.

Steve: How is purpose also being reflected in policies, actions, messages?   

Colleen: We created a purpose activation team, consisting of a cross-functional group of leaders across the organization to essentially look at policies and practices we had in place and ensure that they were designed to help enable our purpose versus detract from it.

Steve: I assume storytelling is a big part of making the purpose come to life and feel more organic?   

Colleen: Yes. It completely redesigned our internal communication content strategy. We built a narrative around the purpose and we identified symbols in our culture that symbolized our purpose in action. One of them is the fact that we wear a red vest. And so we started asking the question of our employees, "What does the red vest mean to you?" And they talked about service and going above and beyond for the customer, and doing things that ultimately helped a customer envision their dream. We took that as a seed of an idea and we started to populate, "What is your red vest moment?"

We're getting great stories from associates. And now we've extended that externally. So on our newsroom we tell stories of what I would consider great red vest moments. We're always communicating the behaviors and the red vest moments. If you walk through the organization, people would say, "That's a red vest moment."

Steve: How do you measure the success of a purpose?   

Colleen: We conduct internal surveys which include KPIs, including how individual leaders inspire their teams to live our purpose. We also look at external research data and the amount and type of customer complaints over time.

Steve: Any advice for other CCOs who may be just beginning this journey or refreshing their purpose or organization's purpose?

Colleen: Don’t make it a campaign. A campaign is temporary. And it shouldn't feel like a marketing slogan. We’ve been very intentional about not branding it with a certain look. It should be about, "Why do I come to work every day?" 

I think the best conversations we've had internally are ones where we really have good debate over, "Is this really helping people love where they live?" People love where they live in times of dire needs, and we have a never-out strategy on certain products.

Our employees were heavily involved in the creation and ultimately the activation of our purpose. We gave 245,000 employees a small wooden block, and asked them to write, "What does home mean to you?” We took everyone's individual block and used it to create new corporate branding at each of our facilities. Now everyone’s diverse voice is a permanent representation of why we each come to work every day.   We did that as well some other things within our buildings to remind us of what matters. Our elevators look like different spaces, a kitchen, a living room, an outside garden, and then when the doors close there's a customer quote about what they love about their space.

And our purpose is key when it comes to recruiting. Executives we recruited, such as our Head of Strategy, Head of Marketing, and Head of HR, all said they were inspired, engaged and excited to be a part of Lowe’s.

Our purpose continually serves as the inspiration for knowing that what we do matters to people.  And that’s why we come to work every day at Lowe’s.