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For the past several months, almost everything in our world shut down except for what was essential and, for the first time, we have learned to do without many things. Perhaps this is why we are now hearing talk about having a positive impact on society and many CEOs are repurposing their companies. Alcohol companies are now producing hand sanitizer while Ford and Dyson are manufacturing ventilators – their purpose is to create a safer and healthier world during a pandemic.
Lately, there has been much discussion about the corporate purpose or being purpose driven. CEO’s can look outward into the market to establish an explicit purpose that makes positive contributions to society rather than just looking inward to corporate culture. Determine the purpose first and then allow the culture to activate it. The sense of purpose provides meaning and a sense of belonging.
Purpose, simply stated, is the reason why the company exists beyond just making money. Some may say that we are all in the business of making money. Purpose is the reason the business exists beyond making money and pleasing shareholders. One of the most impactful examples of purpose occurred in 1962 when President John F Kennedy asked a janitor at NASA what he was doing and the janitor said he was helping to put a man on the moon. There are many companies that thrive with on purpose including Nike, Google, Walmart and Zappos who are “delivering happiness” and the paint brand Dulux who “adds color to people’s lives.” Tesla’s purpose is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” It shifted its purpose from transportation to energy creating the larger purpose of improving our world, not just our transportation. Imagine if a Google search for most notable brands including your company.
There is real power in purpose. In his book Grow, Jim Stengel, former CMO of Procter and Gamble, used a 10-year study to conclude that the 50 highest performing businesses were driven by purpose and that these 50 businesses grew three times faster than competitors. Many studies conclude that a company with a meaningful purpose that positively impacts society can attract, motivate and retain top talent of every generation. With purpose, employees can have heightened commitment and performance along with a sense of teamwork and of really contributing to products and services that create value and make positive contributions. Imagine the possibilities of having a waiting list of top talent wanting to work for you rather than having to actively recruit.
In this time of adversity, employees and customers are looking to CEO’s to make the business better, essential and meaningful to a society so that it never closes again. Creating and sustaining brand purpose can provide that type of relevance. This business disruption has created opportunities for companies to emerge with a higher purpose that creates the desired shift. Today’s consumers are even more likely to purchase from companies that stand for their shared values of doing good in the world.
To be effective and authentic, purpose must have a real connection with the brand and must drive business decisions. Your customers and employees must believe it at all times or they will see it as inauthentic. The brand can be described as how a consumer understands who you are and what you stand for. Brand purpose relates to the product or service provided. It may be best to start by asking why we are in the business in the first place.
You might find that you can discover your company’s purpose by going back into the history and the story of the founders to discover the reason the company came into existence. Then, ask employees why they are proud to work for the company and ask the customers to identify the purpose your product brings to them and reward participation – your customers always appreciate a discount coupon. Your employees and customers can be your most effective advocates. Next establish where your company is, where it needs to go to implement the purpose that the world needs and identify what you need to do to bridge that gap. Then watch the transformation that occurs with a higher purpose. The most important stories told of purpose can be, surprisingly, in the little things because it is the personal touch that creates stories worth retelling.
Still having trouble honing in on purpose? The United National Foundation has compiled a list of 17 sustainable development goals to transform the world including zero hunger, life on land, and decent work and economic growth.
The power of purpose is a perfect trifecta; it attracts, motivates and retains top talent, drives the business and increases sales, and accomplishes good in the world. When we live a purpose driven life, all things are possible.
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