Business with purpose

Business with purpose

In 2019, I attended an event which pitted start-ups alongside investors to generate opportunities for both parties to make new contacts.  I was struck at the time by how every single company that was pitching had a purpose: not just to make money but to achieve a societal goal.  A youth recruitment company wanted to plough profit into mental health support; another start-up was turning used coffee grounds into logs for wood burning stoves – reducing the carbon impact of our daily brew; a further company was providing solar panels that could charge electric cars. Each start-up was refreshingly honest about its purpose beyond profit.

This is an issue that many larger companies are currently wresting with.  We are having more and more conversations with companies of all sizes about what their purpose is in wider society.  These are questions we have been asking for more than a decade, but suddenly there is an appetite to embrace purpose across all businesses.

More than badge wearing

Purpose needs to be more than simply badge carrying for whatever the latest ‘on trend’ bandwagon is.  It is part of the DNA of a company, lived and breathed within every corner of the organisation.  I vividly remember discussing a company’s desire to be a pioneer for women in their male dominated industry.  Initial research looked promising: more than half the employees were women.  But dig a little deeper and most were employed in administrative and clerical roles: the number of women in the boardroom was tragically small and falling.

Picking the purpose

Choosing what you care about is a relatively simple task in a small company but choosing a purpose and instilling values in a large organisation is challenging.  I once worked for a company that urged its employees to always do the ‘right thing’ yet did not define what the right thing was, leaving it open to an individual’s interpretation.  Even today I hear stories of large, well-known brands that champion inclusion but conduct employee behaviours that can only be described as bullying.

Thankfully, it is getting harder to talk the talk without walking the walk.  Sites such as Glassdoor tell us so much about companies – positive and negative. And the fact that billions of people are now walking around with a digital recording device permanently in their pocket makes it impossible to get away with promising one thing and delivering something else.

There is no longer an alternative for business but to deliver on its values.  Picking the purpose is incredibly important, as is demonstrating you live up to that purpose.  If you want to understand how to create and communicate your business purpose more effectively, give me a shout on LinkedIn.

Chris Bignell

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