This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

It’s not uncommon for teams to reach a point where you begin to ask the really big, existential questions. And the recent start of rpk GROUP’s tenth year was just that point in time.

This goes beyond investing time in exploring your purpose as a professional. Instead, it’s something you’ve considered alongside your colleagues. And it turns out that this is a really interesting exercise for teams of any size.

At rpk GROUP, our team convened a few months back to celebrate the milestones we’ve reached, and to regroup and set our vision for the year (and decade) ahead. Like many other distributed organizations, this was a powerful and fun way to spend time together and forge a path that we all felt confident in pursuing.

We began to sketch out what we’re calling the rpk Way: a set of shared values and an approach that would set us apart from anybody else.

This should be a collective effort. Nobody wants to be handed down a company culture; it should be an organic, fluid development that incorporates the active participation of every internal stakeholder. It should matter deeply to everyone involved, because all play a critical role in building and maintaining a healthy culture, and in working toward a shared future. So what you create has to resonate with each teammate.

Here’s what the process has looked like for us so far.

We define our work through a tagline that conveniently has some memorable alliteration: Mission, Market, and Margin℠. It’s catchy, but more importantly, it meaningfully encapsulates our purpose and our promise to organizations. We’re here to help you better serve your mission by finding the intersection of market needs and a margin that will ensure sustainable growth.

For foundations, institutions of higher education, systems, associations and research organizations, that can mean the difference between an initiative or a program impacting thousands of people, or one that never meets its potential. Often what hangs in the balance isn’t whether or not an effort is a worthy one; it’s how resources are allocated and plans are put into action.

This is the rpk Way.

●     Knowledge is our currency, and we share it openly. We intend to leave every partnership having transferred the kind of know-how that enables leadership teams to do their jobs for the foreseeable future.

●     We possess deep domain experience in the academic sphere. We know the lexicon and the challenges intimately well and have more often than not walked a mile in our partners’ shoes. Because of this, empathy is a guiding principle for our leadership team.

●     Our efforts are grounded in the business model. We embrace it knowing that this shouldn’t be a loaded term for nonprofits. Success on the finance side begets success elsewhere, but it has to come with a nuanced understanding of an organization’s mission.

●     We use data to tell stories that drive progress. Crunching numbers can seem hollow without looking at the broader landscape: who does this impact, why is it significant, and how can we improve? How can our partners share stories that garner support for their innovations?

●     We have a bias toward action. In every engagement, we create the ‘Power to Act’—helping partners to prioritize tasks and goals, build a roadmap, and launch with an action plan. Analysis matters, but cannot exist in a vacuum.

●     We help our partners to embrace change. Assisting them with effective change management and culture change takes a long-term perspective, and the foresight to know how to make incremental progress to get there. What do you do after reaching an inflection point?

●     If our work isn’t sustainable, we haven’t done our job. In every engagement rpk GROUP undertakes, we highlight sustainability for institutions and initiatives, so that the good work can continue and grow.

This post is the first of a three-part series exploring the rpk Way. It’s my hope that, in our tenth year, this will shed more light on our work and our desired impact.

I hope you’ll join us as we continue to articulate our purpose…and I’d love to hear your thoughts on your own culture-building processes.

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Richard Staisloff

Richard Staisloff

Rick Staisloff is the founder and senior partner of rpk GROUP. Follow him on Twitter: @rstaisloff