Purpose: the indirect route to success
Milosz Falinski on why the most loved and innovative companies are largely purpose-driven.
By now, almost every business knows that being purpose-driven is good. A leading group of companies all around the world are showing the rest how a brand and business built on values looks. Examples are many; even in the tech industry companies like Pinterest, Etsy, Salesforce and the new Microsoft continuously show their commitment to values larger than profit and market share.
Benefits of becoming purpose led are many and well researched. Increased trust with customers and stakeholders- so important when building a brand people love- more innovation, higher resilience, better decision-making, and a more efficient business are just a few.
And yet, a recent PwC survey shows that while 79% of business leaders think mission is central to success, 68% feel that mission is not actually used in day to day decision-making.
Do brands communicate any differently? Not really. Further research suggests that brands aren’t delivering on this front either. Just 27% of consumers can name a purpose-driven brand, the Purpose Power Index says. Despite the many benefits of embedding a purpose, leaders don’t step up to the challenge. Why?
Why aren’t all businesses purpose-driven by now?
In small organisations, below Dunbar’s number (150) of employees, where one leader can still influence the whole company directly, embedding purpose is a matter of that leader’s conviction and determination.
Being purpose-led, mission-led, vision-led, values-led, authentic - are these many terms that mean the same thing? Or do they mean something different? Lack of clarity around the terminology and how to meaningfully apply it, is the number one reason why many of those well-meaning leaders don't apply the wisdom of purpose.
Despite purpose being reliably good for business, as Unilever has proven in 2018, many leaders are not present to the opportunity it presents. In large organisations it additionally becomes a problem of scale and coordination. Multiple leaders have to align and lead the change in a coordinated fashion. Transformation at large scale takes great leadership and time.
When people are driven by a mission bigger than themselves, they grow to be bigger people than they know themselves to be.
Purpose as a source of clarity
When you listen to the stories of purpose-led leaders, their reality feels simple and straightforward. They are always clear and articulate about what kind of a world they’re building. They know when they’re making the right decisions and they stand by them. Further research backs them up as “companies that operate with a clear and driving sense of purpose outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 10 between 1996 and 2011.”
When you think about it, it’s simple - consumers seek order and certainty in a chaotic and uncertain world. That is one of the things that purpose provides. Brands that have it do better than brands that don’t.
Purpose-driven leaders show us two things. One that it is possible, and two, that once you get there, the different realities of running a successful business become simpler.
The core idea behind becoming a purpose-driven company is straightforward. Purpose, as defined by Accenture, “is the foundation of every experience [..], the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and necessary.” Purpose is a commitment to human values larger than profit or growth.
Becoming purpose driven means making that purpose a core decision-making factor at all levels of operation. From strategy, brand, and product decisions down through internal processes and structures, down to the hundreds of decisions each of the employees makes every day. A truly purpose-led organisation will show a strong commitment to purpose at all these levels.
Benefits of being purpose-driven
When that happens, people notice. Many things shift and change for the better when you become purpose-driven and here are just some of the benefits.
One of the most impactful and most reported benefits of being purpose-driven is increased trust from customers. In today’s world, trust in a brand and trust in leadership are rare and all the more precious.
Think back to how you make decisions as a customer. When a business you deal with states that their mission is important, and then act consistently with that statement, you will slowly develop trust for them. If, in addition, you like the product or service they offer, you will most likely develop loyalty as well. You may even recommend it to a friend, which is the ultimate compliment any business can receive.
In the time of global pandemic and a significant departure in how business is done around the world, I don’t have to espouse the benefits of resilience and ability to adapt to new circumstances.
Resilience is the ability to recover from mistakes, external circumstances or wrong turns and bounce back. Developing it also takes the ability to learn from these situations and put something in place to prevent repeating those mistakes. Taking on a purpose will naturally condition leaders and people in their businesses to develop resilience. A real commitment to realising vision for the world takes companies on a path less trodden, with more unknowns. When people are driven by a mission bigger than themselves, they grow to be bigger people than they know themselves to be. They are willing to go further. To transcend problems and situations that stopped them in the past. Over a period of time, they become resilient.
By fully integrating purpose into the organisation, leaders take on a higher task, with a less direct solution. Extra difficulty pushes them and their teams to be creative, to seek solutions above and beyond what their competitors do. They adopt innovation as a continuous way of operating their business.
And guess what smart and talented people love? They love solving hard problems no-one else has solved before! They will reliably choose an innovative company over other, less innovative ones. They will also be happier, more engaged and stay for longer. Especially if they are pretty confident that all the work they put in will make a positive difference in the world.
The first steps to becoming purpose-driven are often the most introspective and human ones. To find the kind of drive necessary to implement purpose, leaders look deep into themselves to find what truly wakes them up in the morning and start sharing that with others as they build their company. The rest, often, happens by itself.
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