When it comes to fostering unity and performance in an organization, the third rule, “Choose Identity Over Purpose,” from the book Belonging Rules: Five Crucial Actions That Build Unity and Foster Performance may seem counterintuitive. In a world where companies proudly tout their grand missions, choosing identity over purpose might raise eyebrows. However, this rule is a powerful concept that can transform organizational culture and strengthen bonds among team members.

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Redefining Purpose and Identity

In the current business landscape, we often hear about organizations with grand purposes, such as SpaceX’s ambition to colonize Mars or companies dedicated to eradicating cancer. While these lofty goals can be inspiring, they might not be the sole driving force behind an organization’s success. In fact, research and practical experience suggest that a broader cultural ecosystem, driven by identity, plays a pivotal role in creating a sense of belonging among employees.

But what exactly is this organizational identity, and how does it differ from purpose? Organizational identity encompasses the collective values, behaviors, and characteristics that define a company’s culture. It’s about who the organization is, what it stands for, and how it operates. While purpose provides a broad mission statement, identity delves deeper into the values, behaviors, and characteristics that differentiate one organization from another.

Why Identity Matters

Imagine a scenario where multiple organizations share a similar purpose. For instance, consider the NFL, where all 32 teams have a common purpose: to win championships. However, only one team can claim the championship each year. So, what sets these teams apart? The answer lies in their unique identities, the distinct cultures they cultivate, and the spaces they create for attracting, retaining, and nurturing talent.

Identity fosters a sense of belonging, allowing individuals to find their place within the organization. It provides a framework for common values, behaviors, and characteristics that unite the workforce, regardless of their individual backgrounds. By embracing this rule, leaders can intentionally shape their organization’s identity, creating a powerful force for unity and performance.

Practical Steps for Fostering Identity

Creating and nurturing an organizational identity requires intentionality and commitment. Here are some practical steps for leaders to follow:

Ask Fundamental Questions: Start by asking your team members questions about why the organization exists, what values matter, and what characteristics define it. Encourage them to share their perspectives and insights.

Value Feedback: Foster an environment where feedback is encouraged and valued. Show that you’re open to listening to what your team members have to say. Avoid dismissing their input or labeling their thoughts.

Identify Commonalities: Look for common themes and shared values among team members’ responses. Identify the core values, behaviors, and characteristics that resonate with the majority.

Craft a Shared Identity: Use the collected insights to craft a shared identity that represents your organization’s core values, behaviors, and characteristics. Ensure that this identity is clear and easy for everyone to understand.

Humanize Values: When defining values, go beyond one-word statements. Create humanized values consisting of two or three words that capture the essence of each value. This makes them more relatable and actionable.

Maintain Consistency: Ensure that the organizational identity remains consistent across all aspects of the business, from interactions with customers to internal operations.

Empower Employees: Encourage employees to live out the shared identity in their daily work. Provide opportunities for them to contribute to shaping the organization’s culture.

The Importance of Being Intentional

One key takeaway from this rule is the importance of intentionality. Leaders who intentionally shape and nurture their organization’s identity can create a powerful foundation for a thriving culture. Without intentionality, organizations risk drifting away from their identity, potentially causing confusion and disengagement among employees.

In essence, identity is the bedrock upon which organizational culture stands. It defines the values and behaviors that shape the daily interactions and decisions of team members. By choosing identity over purpose, leaders can strengthen their organization’s culture, foster unity, and ultimately drive performance.


In the ever-evolving landscape of business, where the world is more interconnected than ever, embracing a clear and meaningful identity can be the key to success. It provides a sense of belonging, a shared purpose, and a roadmap for the future, allowing organizations to navigate challenges and seize opportunities together.

Asure partners with 100,000 small and midsize businesses in all 50 states. Learn how Asure’s HR experts can help you grow your business.

Watch our video 5 Crucial Actions That Build Unity and Foster Performance, with special guest Brad Deutser, Founder & CEO of Deutser, Bestselling Author, and Speaker.

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