Why leading with purpose is great for business

Your brand’s purpose has to be more than a rousing statement that sits on your website, writes Chrissy Blackburn, managing partner of brand consultancy West Eighty Second. Here are her top five tips for businesses to articulate their purpose, mission and values and to put them to work improving the bottom line.

Chrissy_Blackburn bw 180Ever since Sam Sinek’s brilliant TED Talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’, which seeded the mantra, ‘people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it’, many companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to become a ‘purpose-led organisation’.

At these prices, one would expect the return on investment to speak for itself. So, why are CEOs still waiting to see ‘the transformation’ in staff engagement and Net Promoter Scores that the brand consultants promised? Is ‘purpose’ simply the new black for the modern company or is it ‘the Golden Circle’ that Sinek so eloquently described?

There is hard evidence to prove that an inspiring purpose works. Jim Stengel, the former global marketing director of P&G, has collected 10 years of data involving 50,000 brands.  His conclusion is those that centred their businesses on improving people’s lives have a growth rate triple that of competitors, outperform the market on margin, dominate their category and maximise profit in the long term.

The importance of human connections

He shows how the world’s 50 best businesses including Red Bull, Samsung, Discovery Communications, Visa, Zappos, and Innocent, have a cause and effect relationship between financial performance and their ability to connect with fundamental human emotions, hopes, values and greater purposes. In fact, over the 2000s an investment in these companies, ‘The Stengel 50’,would have been 400% more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500.

Closer to home, Radek Sali, CEO of Australian success story Swisse, spoke about the power of purpose at the World Business Forum in Sydney last month. Sali attributes much of the company’s meteoric growth from $13m to $400m to the company’s purpose, ‘to make people healthier and happier’ and its core values to engage the organisation behind a common cause and provide motivation, direction and meaning for staff.

And you might just succeed in attracting and keeping the youngest members of the workforce, the millennials. They are more motivated by purpose than pay cheques and are happiest when they feel they are contributing to the greater good of society.

Keeping your employees happy and engaged

Employees doing meaningful work beyond making money for shareholders are happier employees and happier employees translate into happier customers.

“Your customers will never be happier than your employees”, says US marketing legend Tom Peters, who recommends this as a good tattoo for all business leaders.

Purpose isn’t just about making it more fun for employees to come to work. More fun translates into more motivated employees who consistently deliver a better experience for customers, which translates into companies being able to substantiate premium prices and maintain a loyal customer base. This ultimately translates into greater shareholder returns.

The idea of being a purpose-led organisation is great for business. So why aren’t businesses seeing the kind of results promised? Because many companies only do half the job. They don’t walk the talk to make it true and employees aren’t sure what they need to do everyday to make the company’s purpose a reality.

Five ways to put your purpose to work

Here’s five lessons I’ve learned from working with both blue chip and smaller companies over the past 15 years, providing the framework, tools and processes to not only help them articulate their purpose, mission and values but to put it to work across the business.

1. Start at the top

There’s no point in the marketing team creating a purpose if the CEO doesn’t see the need for one. Unless the project has the total commitment of the CEO it will never gain traction beyond the marketing department and the company won’t become one that’s purpose led. There must be a passion for the purpose at the top.

2. Inside out

Your advertising agency or your brand consultant can’t create a purpose for you. For no matter how good it is, if the people responsible for delivering it didn’t play an active role in creating it, they will never truly own it. Agencies and consultants certainly have the skills to help you discover your purpose but it must be a collaborative process that is built from within and involves the CEO and the leadership team.

3. You don’t have to save the world

Steve Jobs wanted “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind” but not every company wants to put a dent in the universe. You don’t have to save the world but you do have to express a desire to make things better for people in a clear and inspiring way. The purpose isn’t about you, it’s about what you want to make possible for people.

4. What do you want employees to do?

There’s no point in having a purpose if it’s just going to live on the website or in the induction handbook. Employees need to know what they need to do to deliver on the purpose in their day jobs and need to be reminded often. Values drive behaviours and should be actioned to create the behaviours and standards expected of employees. Employees need to be trained, measured and rewarded for behaviours that exemplify the values and deliver on purpose.

5. Your purpose isn’t your next ad campaign

Make a film to engage employees but don’t put it on air. Your purpose is for use internally only and consumers will most likely fail to see the relevance of your purpose to them. Customers will experience your purpose through the products and services that you provide because of it.

The wrap

Done well, having a purpose can be an incredibly powerful tool. Those who have worked in companies that live their purpose will have felt the earth move. But if you’re not committed to going the whole way, you won’t feel a thing.