What’s the point of purpose?

Purpose is the new business buzzword. We hear it gives ‘meaning’ and is the driving force behind our jobs, our lives even.

So why is this important for business?

Purpose is about making an impact. It’s about instigating change and making it happen in a way that benefits society as well as business.

For businesses, purpose is not simply an ambition, nor a goal to be hit, it goes much deeper. It’s deep-rooted within an organisation and is the foundation for driving business strategy, engaging employees and doing good business. As a starting point, purpose should be intrinsic, highly visible in the day to day functioning of the organisation and well known amongst staff. Both the culture and operations of an organisation should ‘live’ the purpose.

The business case for purpose-driven companies has been made and the results are clear. Companies that really ‘get’ purpose know the value it adds in terms of recruitment and retention, productivity, new business prospecting and deeper customer loyalty. It’s an essential element of, but not restricted to, the business plan.

Companies such as RB* are working towards a clear purpose in every aspect of the business from innovation to supply chain management. RB’s purpose is:

“To make a difference, by giving people innovative solutions for healthier lives and happier homes.”

Another pioneer in this space is Patagonia, whose purpose is:

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Of course, it’s important to tell the outside world about the impact that purpose is having on the business and society. Gone are the days where a company’s vision and mission were simply words on a website, now stakeholders from investors, to pressure groups and consumers are demanding to know more and expecting answers.

So how can communications help?

  1. Positioning: Company purpose is a critical part of brand communications. It’s the essence of the company and should reflect how people interact with colleagues and customers, as well as how business is done. Purpose needs to be articulated in a visionary, yet practical, way backed up with examples of what the business is achieving today and what it’s aiming to achieve tomorrow.
  2. Employee Engagement: Employees should not only understand the company purpose but should feel part of it. Every recruitment drive, every induction session, every appraisal should be founded in the purpose of the organisation. Employees should be able to see very clearly what their role is and why it matters to the company’s overall achievement of its purpose. The employee experience should be an ongoing reflection of all the company is doing to live its purpose.
  3. External Communications: Purpose should be reflected in external communications, whether in direct communications with clients, through media commentary and tone and personality on social channels, or creative, owned content. This isn’t about creating a bunch of promises and trying to stick to them for a limited period of time. Nor is it simply an add on to boost the marketing strategy. It’s the organisation’s reason for being and as such dictates how the business operates. Companies need a communications plan that outlines business and societal commitments and charts progress.
  4. Measurement. It’s important to track and measure impact. Establishing KPIs and reporting against them will demonstrate how purpose is being achieved. Purpose cannot languish as some ‘soft’ indicator. It’s the driving force of a business and should be the reason employees get out of bed in the morning. By making the goals tangible, and the execution smart, organisations can clearly demonstrate both business and societal impact.

Ultimately articulating purpose should be simple. It needs to be real and meaningful and should focus on a true commitment to deliver. It gives an organisation the guiding light needed to succeed with prospects, new recruits, investors, customers and staff.

With both scrutiny and the demands for corporate transparency on the increase, the purpose of purpose has never been greater.

*RB is a current Brands2Life client

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