APP: A Cultural Framework

About a 3-years ago, I introduced a concept to the team I was working with that I called APP: Accountability, Passion, and Purpose. This was a framework that would help us work towards success but also help build the culture that we needed for our team. The initial idea was that it was circular in nature, meaning any one component could fuel the other components and it created revolving momentum. Let me set up those three components and then show you the evolution of the framework. 



Accountability: A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results; stepping forward and working hard to solve problems; working towards a purpose; see it, own it, solve it, and do it.

Let me give you an example of accountability: 

Meet Jeff Dean. In 2002, Dean was an engineer at Google working on the algorithms that fueled the organic search side of Google. At this time in Google’s history, they had not yet “made it big”. In fact, they were going head-to-head against another company called Overture. Overture was picked to be the clear winner; they were backed by large amounts of capital funding. Google had very little backing and was only generating about $6M in profits annually.

One Friday, Larry Page, their founder, pinned a piece of paper to a message board in the lunchroom. It was a screenshot of Google’s search results page showing how poorly their AdWords platform was matching keyword relevancy to paid ads. Page wrote the words “THESE ADS SUCK” across the page.

Dean, who wasn’t working on the AdWords project, saw the note and decided to take a look. It reminded him of a similar problem he had seen on another project. Dean went back to his desk and started working on the problem. He didn’t ask permission; he didn’t tell anyone what he was doing; he just tackled the problem head-on. He came in on Saturday to work on the problem. Then on Sunday night, after having dinner with his family and putting his kids to bed, he returned to the office. At about 5 am on Monday, after pulling an all-nighter, he had the problem solved. He sent an email to Page and then went home to get some sleep.

In the year following Dean’s fix, Google’s profit soared to over $100M. The fix and refinement that Dean made to the Google AdWords algorithm helped put Google on the map.

This is a great example of accountability. There should be no need for us to wait and be told what to do; when there is an issue or a problem, we should rally and overcome the challenge. There should be no need for me to constantly follow up with my team to see where they stand on projects; with the right level of accountability, they will tell me what’s happening. 



Passion: The feeling of enthusiasm or excitement; caring strongly about doing something; a persistent desire to do something better. To help you think about passion, the best example I could think of is Noah and Allie. Yes, I’m talking about the movie called The Notebook. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of The Notebook, it is a love story that exemplifies passion. Let me tell you about it.

The story is set in 1940 in South Carolina. Noah, who works at the local mill, and Allie, who comes from a well-to-do family, fall passionately in love one summer. Allie’s parents did not approve of their relationship and worked to drive a wedge between them. They take separate paths in life but seem to always keep each other in their minds. A few years later in their life, Allie returns to see Noah one last time before she’s to be married. When that happens, their romance is once again rekindled.

What’s interesting about their love story is that it is dripping with passion. They have a high regard for one another but the level of emotion that comes out of that is rich: they fight, they cry, they laugh, they argue, they makeup. They have passion in their relationship.

Because I can’t leave the story hanging, I have to tell you how it ends. What I haven’t mentioned is that the story of Noah and Allie is told through the writings of an old notebook. And the narrator of the story is Noah in his old age. Allie, his bride, has been stricken with Alzheimer’s and doesn’t even recognize her husband or their children. To keep their love alive and to help her remember, he reads their love story back to her from this notebook.

Allie can no longer express love for Noah; she doesn’t even know who he is. But yet, Noah stays with her, cares for her, and tries with everything he has to help her remember.

That is passion.

What if Allie didn’t have the passion to go see Noah just before she was to be married? What if Noah didn’t have the passion to attempt to bring his wife’s memory back everyday? How would the story of The Notebook be different?

What are you doing to be passionate in your work today? Do you care about the work you’re doing? Passion is what fuels us as individuals; without passion in our work, what is it that we are working for? I believe that you must have passion in your work to truly be successful. 



Purpose: The reason why something is done; the aim or intention of something; the feeling of being determined to do or achieve something; the goal of a person.

Purpose is a powerful driving force of daily behavior; Purpose “is what we’re doing for some one else; it’s motivational because it connects with the heart as well as the head.” (Kenny, 2014). It fuels and guides us to accomplish whatever tasks and goals we’ve set for ourselves.

When I talk about purpose, I’m thinking about it from two different perspectives. First, there’s personal purpose. This is specific to you; why do you get out of bed every day? What is it that motivates you and drives you toward excellence? That’s what I consider personal purpose and I feel strongly that this is a vital element for you to figure out. You can read more about how I think about personal purpose here

Within this framework, the purpose I’m referring to is organizational purpose. Organizational purpose is the reason why an organization exists. Yes, for-profit businesses exist to make money; but beyond making money, they must have a drive that benefits the greater good or offers some type of social change. This doesn’t have to be ground breaking or so incredibly complex; it just has to make sense to the brand and the people within the organization. It becomes the rally point or the focal point for all actions and decisions that are made within the organization. Here are a few examples to get you thinking. 


Southwest Airlines

Image result for southwest airlines
“Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel”


“To create a better everyday life for many people”

Boston Beer Company

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“Offer the highest quality product to the U.S. beer drinker”


Each of these examples is simple and straightforward. These brands didn’t overthink their purpose. They simply articulated the reason they were in business as it pertains to their customer. Notice there was no discussion of top-line revenue or profitability; this purpose statement is focused on what their brand is trying to accomplish for their customer. 

Bringing it back to the opening statement about my original idea that Accountability, Passion, and Purpose was circular in nature (meaning, any one component could fuel the other components and it creates revolving momentum), this is an idea of how that triangular framework might look on paper:

After a bit of time exercising the framework with the team (what better way to test it, right), it became apparent that it was much more linear than I had initially thought. In fact, without a specific order, the framework did not hold. I had hoped that each person on the team would gravitate to the component that most resonated with them, allowing them to jump into the framework at whatever step made the most sense to them. After a bit of real-life testing, I’ve reworked the framework into a new version that is linear by nature: Purpose comes first, which fuels passion, and then passion drives accountability. Without passion, you don’t have accountability; and without purpose, you don’t have passion. This is why it must start with purpose.

PURPOSE: This gives each individual the “why” they do what they do for the company. It humanizes the brand and allows the individual to relate, at a customer level, with the work they’re doing. Purpose has to come first; without a clear understanding of “why”, the individuals who are working within the organization will struggle to fine their passion and ultimately, accountability. 

PASSION: With the understanding of the organizational purpose, the individual can then leverage that purpose and begin to fuel their passion. This passion is the individual’s interpretation of the organizational purpose; it’s how the individual manifests the purpose in their own way. This is what makes passion so powerful; when funneled in through the right framework, passion will drive results for your business. 

ACCOUNTABILITY: Every organization would love to have every team member 100% accountable. Very few organizations achieve this high level. However, with a clear definition of organizational purpose and the appropriate level of passion that flows from that, accountability is almost guaranteed. What I mean by that is that if you have the right level of purpose and passion, there is no need to have conversations with your team about being accountable; it is a natural by-product of purpose and passion. 

Now you see why this framework cannot be circular in nature; it must be linear and follow a specific order: First purpose, then passion, and then accountability. It is our job as leaders to create and clearly articulate the purpose. From there, we hire people that align with the purpose and they bring their passion to the job every day. When that happens, natural accountability happens. The individual is happy and performing at a high level; the organization is happy because they have an effective workforce that is driving their business. This framework becomes the essence of the organization’s culture. 

This is my take on how to build and drive a successful team through a culture that does the heavy lifting. What are your thoughts and ideas? What else have you done that has worked? What have you learned from that didn’t work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.