Graham Birkenhead, August 1 2023

The Power of Purpose

Everyone needs a Guiding Star - what's yours?

A sense of purpose is a crucial element of the well-being of any individual. Similarly, a sense of purpose can be a crucial aspect of any company’s culture and health. We like to think of a company’s purpose as being something much bigger than the company itself, something the company maybe couldn't achieve alone, something that they would constantly be working towards but never fully achieve – because there is always more to do. It provides contextual meaning to everything else the company does; and the company uses its area or field of expertise to make its contribution to that purpose. 

However, recently, the term ‘purpose driven company’ has emerged, but this concept seems to be limiting itself to the social (and even political) domain. If we are building a ‘sustainable’ company, contributing to the sustainability of our way of life, then building some ‘people / social responsibility’ into our overall operations is a truly worthwhile endeavour – and it becomes even more relevant when seen in the context of the interdependence with planet / environment and prosperity. Purpose is felt by people both in your company and in society – whether customers, suppliers, or local and broader community – it can become part of your brand.  And so, when thinking of the ‘purpose driven company’, think about that as the positive impact you have on how people think and feel; their physical, psychological, and emotional wellbeing – and their personal sense of purpose. 

But what does that look like, and what can a company do to know that it is making a significant contribution? Here are a few ideas: 

1.    Connect with your Purpose. Take some time to articulate what you are all about – something bigger than you and your company eg Make People Happy (Walt Disney), Serve and Protect – (many police forces), no child going hungry, assuring a sustainable future etc.  These things are done every day, there is always more to do, but never complete. And they don't need to be just 3 or 4 words! 

2.    Define tangible activity (aka social or environmental responsibility). What does that mean for you and your people: you may plant a tree for every sale, or donate some time or % of profit to local good causes, you may buy locally where possible, or adjust product specifications.  Over time, review and adjust these. 

3.    Connect with your Brand. The market brands you based on how it experiences your products and service, and what it knows or believes about you. What do you want the market to say about you?  Let your staff know how your brand is built and how they are crucial to that, and let your customers and the market in general know what you are all about (beliefs, drivers, environmental and social activities), what you are doing and what difference you are making. 

4.    Engage with your employees.   It is amazing how often it feels like we are dealing with 2 separate companies after talking with (senior) management and staff. Ensure you share and discuss your purpose; provide opportunities for them to share their ideas, and questions.  Give them opportunities to contribute to things such as local environmental or social projects or non-profit organisations or any other initiatives that could contribute to your purpose. 

5.    Share and celebrate impact.  Let everyone know what you (collectively) have achieved – 100% transition to LED bulbs, 100 hours of community service, reduced overall energy bill by 15% - indicative of process improvements and greater efficiency. 

6.    Build Sustainable Supply Chains.  Where possible, select suppliers (up and downstream) that demonstrate sustainable, responsible, ethical practices – you may need to work with them to optimize services (supplier development) – but if they are as committed as you are, they may welcome that. 

7.    Persevere.  Challenge and difficulty is inevitable – especially when we start doing things differently. We also have to ensure that we don't jeopardise the company, so often lots of little steps is a good approach – and like walking, steps are taken one after another.  Collaboration with others that share a sense of purpose, being humble and transparent about some of the challenges you are having can bring in ideas and solutions.  Make use of your greatest creative potential – usually your people. 

8.    Keep an Eye on your Goals.   While that sense of purpose is important, having goals is just as crucial. Your purpose is like a Guiding Star – it is used to orient you. Your goals are clear(er) visions of the future that you want to create, and are within definable periods of time. What does your company look like? What does the future that you have created look like – for the prosperity of your business, your people (employees, customers, community) and the environment – and anything else that you deem important. 

9.    Make a difference and inspire.   For every decision you make – ask yourselves: “Will this make a difference? And if so, to what, how, and when? Could I do something slightly differently to make a bigger / broader difference?”  When the outcome is achieved, let people know – what you did as a company, how people contributed, how people benefited – turn it into an inspiring story – let people feel good about the company, the product, and themselves.    

Many companies are already driven by purpose and are doing some (or a lot) of these things; they may just not be overly conscious of it. Are you driven by purpose, or want to be more so? If you want to talk through any of this – whether articulating your purpose, defining and planning meaningful activities, or sharing and celebrating achievement, let me know – I’d be happy to talk with you.  


Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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