brandon west

Guarding Purpose With a Giant Wall of Light Bulbs

I built something for PHOS that took me six months of engineering, planning, and designing, and that cost a considerable amount of money. And I did it just for our culture. 

Today, we unveil to the world the PHOS Light Wall.

Purpose Management

There are a lot of difficult parts of leadership — the isolating nature of executive positions, telling people, “You’re fired,” and compensation strategies, to name a few.

But, I’ve found over the past eight years of leading PHOS that one of the most important functions of executive leaders is also one of the most difficult — purpose management.

Helping people remember why they do what they do is very difficult.

The easy thing to do is walk in every morning, sit down at your computer and start poking away at your keyboard. I call it “work for work’s sake.” It is a mindset that simply says, “I work because I have to work.”

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, outlines a new vision for workplace motivation. Based on his research, humans are intrinsically motivated by three primary things: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. People want to be challenged, self-directed, and find meaning in their work. We are motivated by the reason behind the things we do. We want to know why our work matters.

Helping an organization look at this purpose over and over and over again, though, is hard.

Purpose management requires a ton of intentionality and loads of people-first leadership. It requires corporate rhythms that regularly reinforce an organization’s purpose.

What I’ve found is that companies that do this well have created systems to serve this universal business need. I’ve seen companies that have constructed corporate mantras, cause-related marketing programs, and sometimes even visual objects that help to refocus and push down purpose throughout the organization.

Famously, everyone at TOMS could tell you about a “shoe for a shoe.” It’s a company-wide understanding of their purpose based on a company-wide commitment to generosity.

On a very simple level, you’ve likely been in an office that had a bell near the front door that says, “If you had a great visit, ring the bell.” Those teams are using even auditory senses to remind their people, “This is why we exist — to serve others.”

I’ve been so inspired by these purpose-driven brands that eventually, I decided PHOS needs a symbol.

Why Light Bulbs?

PHOS is the Greek word for “light,” and it has always been central to our identity as a company. We help clients to stand out and be a light in a really saturated space online. Likewise, our heart as an agency has always been to be an anomaly in our industry. We want to operate with unmatched excellence, a vision greater than to “be the best,” and a purpose that shines a light on eternally significant truths. 

The mission of PHOS is to be a company that team members never want to leave, clients can’t do without, and the world is better for and, in so doing, exemplify the love of Jesus Christ. At the end of 2020, we decided we wanted a way to visualize this mission, help us keep our “why” in front of each other, and guard our purpose.

So, this year, we built a giant box full of our central brand symbol — light bulbs.

Purpose - Picture of the PHOS light wall illuminated.

The PHOS Light Wall contains 267 light bulb sockets and hangs in the front lobby of the studio. The wall represents our commitment to be a light to one another, each other’s families, our clients, our vendors and suppliers, and our local and global community.

Each time a mission moment happens at PHOS, the person most closely attached to that mission moment will visit the light wall, take out a new bulb, screw it in, and document it in a mission journal that sits beneath the wall. The journal enumerates the bulbs and records the mission moment that sparked each bulb’s illumination. 

There are five things that qualify as mission moments at PHOS:

  1. A New Team Member Joins
  2. A New Clients Joins
  3. A New Child is Sponsored Through Compassion International
  4. A New Relationship is Started With Jesus
  5. Anything Else Deemed Worthy of Fulfilling Our Mission 🙂

On June 16th, 2021, we revealed the wall to our team at an event we titled the “PHOS Anniversary Memoriam.” As I explained to the team its significance, I said to each of them, “Today, the PHOS light wall starts with you,” and each person on the team went to the wall, turned on a light bulb, and signed the journal.

The light wall was a gift to the team to celebrate our recent eight-year anniversary, but it is also a guardian. Every day when we walk in, we can look at the rows of glowing bulbs and remember, “We exist for a greater purpose.”

If your business exists for a purpose worth celebrating, I want to exhort you to fiercely protect against the inevitability of mission drift. The more processes you create and the more documentation you develop, the more you and your team can slip into work for work’s sake. Leaders, it is your job to guard your organization’s purpose in the best of times and in the worst of times. If your team believes in what you do, invite them to bring their ideas on how you can creatively labor to preserve that purpose. When you do, you’ll find all the employee engagement you’ve been looking for.

Happy eighth birthday, PHOS. You are loved.

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