Skating Panda and Charities Aid Foundation have joined forces to share a series of four articles to help businesses understand the why, what, and how of becoming purpose-led.
Covid-19 has complicated the way we work and go about our lives, but despite the challenges it has provided the chance to rethink the approach to purposeful business.
Covid has made every business look at itself and review how equipped it is to respond to huge disruption. Through this process, many businesses have learnt a lot about the potential of their people and ability to react and innovate. More importantly, it has made companies consider the role they play in the wider context (society, communities, their own networks). Board rooms today are asking existential questions and starting to realise that if they don’t change quickly and demonstrate their responsibility to a wide range of stakeholders, they will disappear.
The purpose journey is ongoing. It is a mind-set that evolves and spurs subsequent change in strategies and decisions, and so you can’t expect lasting change by devising a purpose and making a few one-off changes. In this article we look at practical tips to integrate your purpose and explore ideas for maximising the potential of your people and relationships to create a living, breathing, purpose-driven organisation.
Putting purpose into practice
Transformational change hinges on an embedded sense of purpose. Our experience has shown that the most effective way to integrate an authentic sense of purpose is to build ownership amongst key stakeholders and help them contextualise it in their role, and their ambition and objectives.
Our approach convenes senior stakeholders to set a vision and build consensus, whilst synthesising crucial external insights and views to ensure a focus on the most material and relevant social and environmental needs. Below are three stages you should consider when building purpose ownership and driving action.
When bringing purpose to life it’s critical to explore and understand the issues that are material to your business and your people. Ask questions about what you do and how you do it, and be sure to make your people part of that process. Scrutinise whether these issues and the role the business wants to play in society are captured in your values and culture.
Dove is good example of a company that understands what is important to them and their stakeholders – making women feel comfortable in their own skin, not selling more soap. This changes the tone and the approach of everything they do, from their product range to the style and messaging of their marketing – it’s something all their stakeholders can buy into.
Once you have explored what it is, find a way to reflect your purpose through your communication, organisational commitments, in your decision making, and how you deliver social change. Be guided by your purpose in every decision you make – on a daily basis and in the long term. Make future focussed decisions anchored in purpose. The North Star that purpose provides is also a great motivator and has the ability to unite a diverse team through a common desire to contribute to a meaningful goal, and enabling them to take actions that are in line with their own values and passions.
In order to integrate purpose in your business, be sure to always use it to create context for how and why decisions are made and changes are implemented. Using purpose as a tool to set context ensures that people are constantly aware of the ‘why the company exists’ and what their role is in helping to work towards that higher purpose.
In 2013 Bupa defined their purpose with a focus on healthcare and ensuring their clients felt their best in order to have time to focus on the things that are important to them – it wasn’t about insurance.
This change in positioning and context helped their staff to better understand the company philosophy they were working for and helping to grow. It created a new context and mindset for how each employee approached their responsibilities. Bupa grew from a 50,000 customer business in 2013, to a 750,000 customer business in 2014 – proof that changing the context can change the game.
People and purpose
Creating a purpose-driven business, with a compelling set of behavioural values, can have a transformative effect on your people and relationships with customers, suppliers and communities. Here are a few examples of how this can manifest in high performance, positive cultures:
- Hire culture-adds: When hiring new employees don’t just hire for a cultural fit – hire a cultural add. Give employees the opportunity to feed their ideas back on how purpose can come to life in your organisation, from their perspective.
- Create opportunities: Your people are your most valuable asset. Give them the opportunity to give back to the things they care about at work. Get a charity partner that employees buy into, offer payroll giving and give them time to volunteer. All these things lead to great development opportunities and more invested employees.
- Be trustworthy: Purpose-led businesses are built on strong foundations of openness and trust. Knowledge sharing, transparency and honesty are all ways of improving relationships and investing in the growth of other businesses in the network.
- Broker partnerships: Develop collaboration and partnerships with constituent groups to develop an affinity and understanding of those you support or serve as a business.
- Showcase purposeful work: Give employees, partners and vendors opportunities to share what your purpose means to them. Highlight your efforts on social media, add a new section to your website, or start a blog to which employees can contribute. If you are sincere and authentic, more ideas will materialise on how to recognise your achievements.
To really embed purpose, decide what success looks like and make sure it is measurable. There is no need to over-engineer the process of keeping everyone accountable – keep it simple but make sure you track your progress. It’s a circular process – acknowledge where it isn’t working and make changes.
Bringing your purpose to life can transform how customers experience your products and services, how the communities you operate in feel about your business, and how your employees feel about their work. Purpose may be a company’s best source of resilience in the face of complexity and unpredictability. It serves as a strategic guide, helping companies to spot potential risks, stay focused on the long term and resist pressures to react to trends or fads. A sense of purpose doesn’t just help improve performance in the short term – it also gives companies a more durable and essential license to operate for the exciting, if uncertain, decades to come.
This is the last in a four-part blog series by Skating Panda and Charities Aid Foundation. You can find the other pieces here.