Untapping your company’s purpose potential

We live in an age where companies and brands with a compelling sense of purpose seem to have a significant competitive advantage. I read articles every day about how purpose-led companies outperform those that are not. As someone who has always struggled to find the motivation to do something unless I believe in it (much to the frustration of my line managers early on in my career), the growing significance of purpose inside the business world resonates with me. People want to work for company that does things they can see the value of, that they can believe in. And they want to do work that is meaningful that has a positive impact that they can see and understand. I get it. Let’s bring it on… But I also wonder if this wasn’t always the case? And why is it only now that businesses shave woken up to all of this?

For me, one of the main issues is that many companies have lost their sense of purpose forgetting why they exist in the first place. Take the example of insurance companies. They were in my opinion one of the first social enterprises based on the maxim of ensuring that those individuals that fell foul of bad luck had some kind of security by sharing the risk with others. However, in these days of complex global risk, reinsurance and quarterly earnings reports driving relentless pressure on growth, how many people inside insurance companies actually feel connected to that sense of purpose?

Another issue is that some companies have a ‘purpose proposition’ that’s out of date and is no longer ‘compelling’. Oil and Gas companies for example could once pride themselves on providing the energy that gets the world moving. However, as the planet struggles to combat the effects of climate change and reducing carbon emissions becomes one of the main KPI’s of increasing numbers of governments around the world, the premise of oil and gas companies becomes more tenuous. Their employees start to lose their belief, talent becomes harder to find and they become less profitable even before legislation kick in.

Many companies, however, have a great opportunity to capitalise on the purpose that they do have. Companies like Maersk for example have found new purpose by selling off subsidiaries to be able to focus on their core business of logistics and a purpose of, ‘bringing prosperity to communities worldwide by enabling trade’. To ensure that this sense of purpose is experienced by everyone inside the organisation they have started to embark on providing immersive experiences to key groups of employees that connect them to their company’s purpose and its impact on the world. Beginning with their new MBA hires and senior directors, the company has provided an opportunity for these groups of talent to develop their leadership skills by spending time working with small businesses in developing parts of the world where the benefits of trade can make a massive difference to people’s lives.

Another example is Mars, whose well established Ambassadors programme has become a highly coveted opportunity for about 100 Mars employees each year to experience the broader impact of the company’s work through immersive engagements in different parts of their value chain. Some ambassadors spend time on cocoa farms seeing the difference that farming cocoa makes to communities in Africa, while others spend time working with public anti-litter campaigns. These experiences brings to life the whole product impact cycle for employees enabling them to connect their day to day jobs with broader issues of concern and value.

For Salesforce, purpose is more personal. Their executive development programme, Leading Ohana is focused on providing very senior leaders with immersive experiences that enable them to understand their own values and purpose so that they can lead more authentically and passionately at work, cascading an important set of values through the company as it continues to grow.

For companies that have a compelling purpose but have yet to tap into its power, providing these kinds of immersive experiences gives a strong emotional and visceral connection to employees enabling them advocate more strongly for their organisation and what it stands for. Emerging World’s annual impact study shows that as result of these kinds of experiences 89% of participants report increased pride in the company while 81% are inspired to contribute more than is required for their role.
The untapped opportunity may be greatest for companies working in industries such as life sciences, healthcare and sustainable energy & development whose products and services will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But they would work for any company whose work resonates more broadly among those that are concerned about the wellbeing and sustainability of humankind and are not driven purely by money.

These companies can capitalise on this positioning by ensuring that their workforces are fully connected to their company’s purpose through leadership and Corporate volunteering programmes. This will drive engagement, productivity and innovation ensuring these companies can leverage the opportunity that purpose provides and succeed to the maximum of their potential.

Matthew Farmer – Founder & MD

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