If your organisation were to suddenly disappear into thin air overnight, what would people remember of it? Would they remember how you fought to improve local communities, or how you created an affordable and accessible service that defied industry norms, or how you took a stand against climate change by reducing your environmental footprint?
Or would your customers, employees and stakeholders simply jump ship to the next best thing without giving your organisation a second thought?
The world as we know it is changing. Our political scene is shrouded by uncertainty, new technology is sparking wave after wave of digital disruption, and our workplaces are adapting to meet the constantly-shifting demands of modern workers.
So, rather than simply existing and hoping for the best, organisations need to create a purpose that drives them forward and prompts further action - answering the question: what else can be done?
Here are three indicators of a purpose-driven organisation:
1) It has a carefully crafted purpose statement.
The ability to connect the head with the heart is an incredibly powerful thing - and organisations with a purpose do exactly that. Outward-facing and customer-focused, an effective purpose statement is inspirational enough to have an emotional impact, while also being practical, relevant, and true to your brand.
Consider what impact your organisation is trying to have on your customers, your industry, or society as a whole. What are your people passionate about – besides making a profit (noting that profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive)?
Take Unilever’s purpose statement as an example: “Making sustainable living commonplace.” The statement encompasses the FMCG company’s desire to provide affordable and high-quality products to people from all walks of life, as well as help people in need through its Sustainable Living Plan. But it also connects with the consumer’s desire to achieve the same goal – to live in a world where sustainable living is commonplace.
And the beauty about Unilever’s statement is that it moves beyond the organisation’s existing business objectives, instead focusing on the grand scheme of things; it will be just as relevant in 100 years’ time as it is now.
2) It practices what it preaches.
A purpose statement should be aspirational enough to capture people’s imagination, but it’s not good enough to simply state it and expect everyone to roll over in awe. As they teach budding writers in creative writing classes, it’s vital here to “show, don’t tell”. A purpose-driven organisation shows its consumers and employees that it takes purpose seriously by actively demonstrating the steps it’s taking to meet this promise.
If your purpose has inspired you to take steps to reduce your environmental impact, for example, or stirred a desire to support a particular cause, take the time to regularly communicate these initiatives.
For instance, The Body Shop’s “Enrich, not exploit” purpose statement encompasses a wide range of different elements, such as how it treats its customers and employees, how it approaches relationships with trade suppliers, and the steps it is taking to reduce its environmental footprint.
The beauty and skincare retailer actively communicates how its short but powerful purpose statement has inspired a number of initiatives, from investing in community trade programmes, to making a commitment to only use natural ingredients, to leading a number of wildlife protection initiatives.
3) It attracts passionate employees and customers.
Organisations with a strong sense of purpose naturally attract and engage passionate employees and customers. Why? Because people are drawn to your cause - they believe in your promise and are willing to invest their time, energy and money into it.
So, when devising and rolling out your purpose strategy, it’s highly recommended that you look internally to create a shared sense of purpose.
For example, the global professional services firm KPMG wanted to articulate its purpose, and after conducting extensive research, came up with: “Inspire Confidence. Empower Change.” But KPMG wanted people to experience this purpose for themselves, so they gathered over 40,000 personal stories from employees to form a greater picture of how people view their own purpose within the organisation.
KPMG asked employees to describe their jobs – but instead of focusing on the particulars of their roles, they were asked about the impact their roles have on people and on the planet. As an example, the group of people behind KPMG’s audits development programme that helps restore low-income communities, came up with the combined purpose of: “We restore neighbourhoods.”
Equally inspirational messages came from other aspects of the business, such as “I help farms grow,” “I stop cybercrime” and “I advance science.”
This approach not only made KPMG employees consider how their own personal purpose aligns with that of the organisation but it also created a shared sense of purpose that KMPG can bring to the market.
And when it comes to taking on board fresh talent, organisations should be looking to align a candidate’s own personal sense of purpose (their integrity) with the organisation’s purpose, and look to match candidate mindset with company culture. This will result in greater engagement, tenure and productivity.
Customers are also far more likely to favour organisations with similar beliefs or views as their own. A recent study by the University of Southern California found 87% of millennials base their buying decisions on the positive social efforts of a company.
Generally speaking, organisations with a strong sense of purpose have more passionate customers, highly-engaged employees, and are financially more profitable than the competition.