How Purpose Can Turn Your Company into Camelot

At BrightHouse, we often talk about helping companies get to Camelot. But what do we mean by that and where did that language come from? It’s a part of our original Purpose matrix, and a part of BrightHouse history. Here’s the real story behind Camelot.

The Camelot Matrix is an important part of BrightHouse history. It was co-created by BrightHouse Founder Joey Reiman and Andrea Hershatter, Senior Associate Dean, Goizueta Business School, Emory University, and it is described in detail in chapter 13 of Reiman’s book The Story of Purpose.

Here’s an excerpt: “Camelot is the stuff of legend. Made famous by twelfth-century legends of King Arthur,…Camelot today has simply come to mean a place or time of idyllic happiness. For business it can be a real destination where organizations of meaning bring both goods and good to the world. Camelot companies and brands have created their own mythologies by their benevolence and goodwill. These organizations were born with great purpose and garner the love of their associates, customers, partners, and shareholders.”
BrightHouse had been using the Camelot Matrix for years to help companies understand that operational excellence and extrinsic rewards are only part of the way to motivate their employees. The two axis on the original matrix were Operational Excellence and Soulful Excellence. Operational excellence is when a business executes their strategy more consistently and reliably than their competition. “Soulful Excellence” was BrightHouse’s own measure of a company’s purpose and how well it’s lived day to day.

Companies with high purpose and high operational excellence are considered Camelot companies. And the goal was to move your corporation from a Castle in the Sky (a company with high purpose but very poor operational excellence), a Fortress (high operational excellence but low purpose), or what we now call a Fiefdom (low operational excellence and low purpose) to the storybook realm of Arthurian legend. But it took a long time for BrightHouse to convince the world that purpose is not just nice, it’s necessary.

As The Story of Purpose puts it, “Working in Camelot takes bravery. In a 24/7 world of 1-minute managers, someone who is reflective, caring and mindful of the next century is often seen as “out there.” When I first started talking to companies about purpose nearly two decades ago, I was met with blank stares and comments such as, “That’s a ‘nice to have,’” Or “when we get the basics right we’ll revisit purpose.” The irony of course is that nothing is more basic to getting the business on track than Purpose. It is foundational.”

When BCG acquired BrightHouse they embarked on a serious research project to prove out the Camelot Matrix and discover if we can accurately measure purpose within an organization. Using the Matrix, they relabeled the axis and Purpose and Performance. To demonstrate the correlation between purpose and performance, they used the company’s ten year total shareholder return to measure performance and designed a survey with 15 statements that reflect the robustness of purpose. For example: my company’s purpose addresses a real need in society.
When they dove into the relationship between purpose and TSR, clear patterns emerged: “Many organizations with a high purpose score also had high TSR; we called these the Camelot companies. Organizations with a low purpose score also had low to middling performance. Those companies fell into one of two groups, which we called fiefdoms (to indicate their primarily transactional relationship with employees) and fortresses (to reflect that they are strong but lack an explicit interest in society). Organizations with a high purpose score and low performance we called castle-in-the-sky companies. There weren’t many of these companies, which demonstrates that without embedding purpose, long-term performance is unsustainable.” (Read more in our whitepaper For Purpose to Matter You Have to Measure it.)

The correlation between purpose and profit was clear. Organizations simply can’t perform at their best without a robust, embedded purpose. Like our founder knew all those years ago, purpose is foundational.

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