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How Executives Inspire Purpose Driven Workplace Cultures

From left to right: Dustin (Dusty) Deschamp, Kevin Gray, Tim Morrow, and Sarah Richardson

As 2024 begins with a bang, I see everyone in my sphere start to assess their resolutions and ponder their achievement. I can't help but reflect on how powerful it is to have our actions be directed by our values. When we really understand our broader goals and how our actions contribute to their realization, it is a powerful thing. I believe this sense of purpose is fundamental to each of us. The power of purpose goes beyond that which is personal. Having founded an executive search firm serving mission-driven organizations, I've been privileged to work with many leaders who foster purposeful cultures. They understand that thriving, purpose-driven cultures are more impactful. With this ideology, I knew there was more to learn.


I engaged in conversation with four distinguished executives: Dustin (Dusty) Deschamp, Vice President of Internal Relations at the Saint Louis Zoo; Kevin Gray, Chief Information Officer of the City of Burbank; Tim Morrow, President and Chief Executive Officer at San Antonio Zoo and Will Smith Zoo School; and Sarah Richardson, leadership development coach and Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer at Tivity Health. The visionary leaders in this cohort hail from diverse industries but are united in their shared commitment to cultivating workplaces that both invest in their people and actively connect individual responsibility and daily activities to mission. To get to the heart of their approach, I presented three questions to these dynamic executives, aiming to uncover the principles and practices that contribute to purposeful organizational cultures.


1. How do you integrate your company's mission and values into day-to-day operations to foster a purpose-driven culture among your employees? 


Dusty Dechamp: Our mission and values are visible throughout the Saint Louis Zoo. Posters highlighting our mission and our core values can be seen in offices, break rooms, and in public-facing spaces. We align our mission with various initiatives, such as projects, new construction, programs, and policies. For example, demonstrating our value of "People Matter,” we've recently expanded the paid child bonding time for full-time employees. Additionally, in our Board meetings and all-staff meetings, we have “Mission Moments” where we try to remind our volunteer leaders and our teams why they choose to work and/or serve with us by sharing success stories. At a recent Board meeting, we reported news that the Scimitar Oryx, a species the Zoo has worked with for years, has moved from once being extinct in the wild to now being classified as endangered! The entire room was energized and moved when this was announced.


Kevin Gray: At the City of Burbank, we employ a comprehensive approach anchored in stories, action, and visualization. Our organization is rich with impactful stories demonstrating the positive effects of our services on the community and we regularly share these stories with our teams. These tangible examples of achievement not only inspire but also foster unity and camaraderie, providing positive reinforcement for our collective achievements and highlighting behaviors, values, and actions contributing to a positive, achievement-oriented team culture. Throughout my tenure, I've come to understand that the realization of our vision and mission lies in relentless communication. By communicating and emphasizing each individual person's role in fulfilling our mission, we highlight how their unique actions significantly contribute to the City's overarching goals.


Tim Morrow: Here we frame every department as being either Mission Delivering or Mission Enabling. Whether you are delivering the mission through animal care, conservation, or education, or enabling that through operations, advancement, or supporting services, there is no function or role here that is not tied to the mission. By doing so, it helps each employee understand their role in delivering or enabling the mission.


Sarah Richardson: At Tivity, we integrate our mission and values into daily operations by fostering a purpose-driven culture through an intentional focus on empowerment, transparency, collaboration, and camaraderie. We encourage open communication and problem-solving through "We Talk it Out," celebrate uniqueness through "We Celebrate Individuality," drive determination with "We Execute with Conviction," and promote continuous improvement through "We Get Better Every Day." These values are woven into our daily interactions, decision-making processes, and ongoing support for our colleagues, creating an environment where everyone feels valued, motivated, and aligned with our organizational mission and values. It has been with a considerable amount of incrementalism that this has been possible as the team was far from this being an operating norm when I joined three years ago.  


2. Can you share a specific initiative or strategy you've implemented to empower employees and connect them to the broader purpose of your organization? 


Dusty Dechamp: One initiative I'd like to highlight at the Saint Louis Zoo is our Change for Conservation program. Team members ask guests to round up to the nearest dollar after a purchase, with the additional funds supporting our global conservation efforts. This program enables our front-line team members to connect guests' purchases to the broader purpose of the Zoo—working to save animals from extinction. It's rewarding to see team members develop their own style as "salespeople" for conservation. We emphasize that every job contributes to fulfilling the Zoo's mission.


Kevin Gray: Our Scaled Agile Transformation was a comprehensive transformation of how we work, how we prioritize our initiatives, and how we collaborate with our various business units. We implemented Lean Portfolio Management, where we work closely with our business leadership to quantify the value of proposed initiatives against how quickly we can deliver the hypothesized value. Working directly with our business leadership ensures our connection to their goals and objects that support the strategic themes of the City Council. Then in collaboration with them, we show the alignment of the prioritized initiatives to the strategic themes of the Council, thereby ensuring their connection to the broader purpose of the organization.


Tim Morrow: At the San Antonio Zoo, we provide our staff with tours of areas like our Conservation Center and offer volunteer opportunities for community work aligned with our mission, such as with our San Antonio Zoo Green Team and nature clean-ups. Once a quarter, we also hold “All Crew Meetings” where department heads showcase their contributions to delivering or enabling the mission for the entire zoo crew. 


Sarah Richardson: The team has been carefully curated to spearhead comprehensive application, technical, digital, and data transformation initiatives. The mission is to future-proof our organization for increased market share, fortify our competitive advantage, establish best-in-class architecture, and drive continuous integration and delivery. With a focus on driving revenue and reducing cost, this team is poised to revolutionize our technological landscape, ensuring that our systems and processes remain at the forefront of industry standards and responsive to evolving market demands. We are in the final stages of delivering this capability to the organization as part of a nearly four-year strategic plan.


3. Recognizing that work isn’t our sole focus, I’m also interested in understanding if, and how, you empower your team members to pursue their individual paths to purpose, even if it extends beyond the workplace. 


Dusty Dechamp: We have an internal Workforce Development Department that offers hundreds of programs that any of our employees can participate in. We want our team members to constantly improve and grow, and we are constantly looking for growth opportunities within the organization. We understand that the current role of a team member is likely not the one they wish to retire in (although it could be), and we do what we can to assist that team member in achieving their career goals. Later this year, we will be hosting our first ever internal career fair, where various departments will have booths and will discuss with interested current employees how to pursue a career path to that job. 


Outside of professional growth, one of our core values is Life-Work Balance, so we offer many programs to ensure our team is aware of total health, both mentally and physically. In 2024, we started offering a counselor who comes on-site once per month and can meet with our team members on a completely confidential basis. We are mindful of burnout and compassion fatigue, and we are offering several resources to combat it.


Kevin Gray: We cultivate a culture of continuous learning at the City of Burbank. Not only do we actively endorse and support individual learning journeys, but we also consider it a fundamental expectation within our organization. During my initial year with the city, we launched "The IT Book Club," delving into insightful reads such as "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership," "The Speed of Trust," and "User Story Mapping." We also actively encourage team members to explore diverse opportunities aligned with their interests, providing unwavering support for any steps they wish to take in realizing these opportunities. We don’t worry about whether they might take their newly found skills elsewhere. In fact, we celebrate it when it happens.


Sarah Richardson: As a leader, I prioritize supporting my team members in pursuing their individual paths to purpose by fostering a culture of continuous education and development. I actively engage in succession planning and encourage annual goal setting, ensuring that each team member has the opportunity to grow within the organization. Moreover, I advocate for the utilization of all their paid time off (PTO) to promote a healthy work-life balance. By creating environments where they can achieve stretch goals outside of their comfort zones, I provide the necessary support and room for growth, fostering an environment that truly enables and encourages taking thoughtful risks.


I have devoted my career to executive search because I understand that people are an organization’s greatest resource and know the power of motivated, high-performing teams. There is nothing that can’t be achieved when passionate, engaged people work together to affect change. I thank Dusty, Kevin, Tim, and Sarah for their insights and applaud their work to make each of their great organizations better. Here’s to a purpose-driven 2024!


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