Purpose, purpose, purpose
Organisations who understand purpose often provide a boost to all manner of business-related things...
Many in HR know that there are a number of other motivating factors that drive individuals to get their work done outside of merely getting paid. Which leaves a pretty important question: if an organisation offers adequate compensation for staff to feel secure, how does it motivate and engage them beyond this? For many companies, the answer is to create a sense of greater purpose. However, that can be difficult. If you’re a financial firm involved in esoteric trading suddenly telling staff, many of whom may have been there for a substantial period of time, that the driving business motivation is now to save the whales. At best, it might seem ludicrous; at worst, demotivating.
The follow on from this is that firms need to engage staff in creating that purpose and have ‘receipts’ that ensure they’re not just using the idea of a purpose for ‘hollow’ internal or external PR. In fact, creating a purpose with no action underpinning it – or worse, performing actions that contradict it – can cause further problems.
Business strategist Graham Kenny, writing in Harvard Business Review, believes “corporate purpose rings hollow if the company’s actions don’t back it up.” Whilst Kenny uses a historic example of ‘hollow purpose’ to make his point – citing how part of the Domino’s Pizza franchise underpaid staffers and charged people for visas though part of the firm’s value statement is ‘treat people how you want to be treated’ – more current examples of ‘hollow’ or dubiously cited purpose can be found without looking too far.
Consider the latest focus on structural racial inequality in the news and the follow on impact on corporate culture. In early June, countless individuals and firms ‘blacked out’ their social media feeds or website headers to position themselves as supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it wasn’t long before articles were written scrutinising the questionable commitment to diversity and inclusion that some companies had, despite superficial support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In this instance, Microsoft, Amazon, Adidas and Nike all came under fire.
Therefore, it’s important that purpose does reflect both action and employee values. To showcase firms who are doing it, alongside the benefits they get from this, HR Grapevine has charted three purposeful firms below. Read on to find out more.
BlackRock made waves at the start of the year when Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of the world’s largest money manager, wrote in his annual letter to company executives that sustainability would be the firm’s “new standard for investing”. He doubled down on this value-driven ethos during the coronavirus pandemic, telling CNBC: “The one thing that is very clear in this Covid world ... [is that] stakeholder capitalism is only going to become more and more important, and the companies that focus on all their stakeholders – their clients, their employees, the society where they work and operate – are going to be the companies that are going to be the winners for the future.”
Pure Planet is clearly a purposeful firm. The company's ‘About Us’ section states it's about ‘people, planet as well as profit’ further explaining that the firm was founded by friends who ‘wanted to offer green energy for less than brown, polluting energy.’ This dovetails with their treatment of staff, resulting in being awarded the second-best small company to work for in 2020; as Richard Roberts, People Director at Pure Planet, explains purpose is a core part of its employee offering. It engages staff and, as he explains, “having an engaged and motivated workforce has a positive impact on work.”
When talking about how he creates an engaged and productive team – even when work is done remotely – Roberts puts having a purpose at the top of his agenda. “We have a very clear why [to ‘why’ work is done],” he says, adding that organisations must create this ‘why’ in order to thrive. For Pure Planet, it's about creating renewable energy and this engages staff in all of their doing.
With Josh Bersin research showing that purpose-oriented companies have higher productivity and growth rates, along with satisfied workers who stay longer, many firms are pivoting to purposeful output in order to drive growth, innovation and retention. For example, Unilever focussed on “sustainable living” brands (i.e., brands focused on reducing Unilever’s environmental footprint and increasing social impact) such as Dove, Vaseline and Lipton. These brands were then able, on their own, to deliver 75% of the company’s growth. Soap, petroleum jelly, and tea are everyday household essentials, but by promoting sustainable living, these products became differentiated as they embody the company’s purpose.
In an article focussing on Unilever’s pivot to sustainability in the Stanford Social Innovation review, the conclusion was that: “Thinking about the social purpose that a company and its brands serve enables employees to latch onto the higher purpose and use the company as a means to express their values, which in turn, creates meaning in and at work.”