The Future of Business is Purpose-Driven

The 'Why’ Factor Must Lead the Way

Writer Annie Dillard famously said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

According to the American Time Use Survey, the average American adult spends roughly a third of each day at work.

Most Americans will work until age 62. If you start working right after college graduation, you will work for 40 years of your average 78-year lifespan.  That equates to 80,000 hours spent working over the course of your life.

Is it any wonder that people want what they do to matter?


Enter: Purpose

According to Carla Johnson, a world-renowned storyteller, purpose is “the organization’s fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work—it taps their idealistic motivations—and gets at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existence beyond just making money.”

In other words, the why: why you exist, why you do what you do, and why what you do matters to society and the world.

Many of us turn to branding to make an organization what the outside world wants to see and engage, but consider the brand separate from the organization. Purpose show us that brand and organization should be one in the same. It is purpose that takes an unknowable corporation and makes it empathetic and human, worthy of our impassioned connection. It also provides a clear direction toward which everyone can drive.

For purpose to work, everyone must be on the same page. As Roisin Donnelly of Proctor & Gamble told Marketing Week, “Purpose ...has to be big, inspiring, simple and memorable. It has to inspire every single person in your company, as well as shareholders, stakeholders, and agencies.”

Purpose should also stimulate change and progress. That means it should be coupled with a vision and mission.

Your vision outlines what the world will look like if you succeed in your purpose, highlighting the impact you will make and the change that will result from your existence. Vision aligns both the leadership and those affiliated with the brand around a shared goal.

A mission provides a direct path to how you will fulfill your purpose and ultimately accomplish your vision. It’s your brand’s strategy to deliver impactful results by focusing on what matters.

Most importantly, purpose provides a meaningful reason for employees to come to work every day, as well as a light to guide the way ahead.


Purpose Maximizes Work

The Harvard Business Review conducted a global survey of 474 executives to make a business case for brand purpose.

They found that leaders, for the most part, unanimously agree on the critical value placed on purpose.

To deliver the best results, a brand’s purpose must be articulated clearly and simply. According to Siegel+Gale, 62% of employees of simple brands are considered brand champions vs. only 20% of complex brands.

Those leaders whose brands had an understood purpose said that it included “inspiring innovation and positive change, providing employees with a sense of meaning and fulfillment, creating value for the customer, and making a positive impact on their community.”

As part of the study, HBR identified three stages of brands working on implementing purpose:

  • prioritizers, organizations that already have a clearly articulated and understood purpose;

  • developers, organizations that do not yet have a clearly articulated purpose but are working to develop one; and

  • laggards, organizations that have not yet begun to think about purpose (3).

Using these categories, their study revealed that brands driven by purpose simply do better: “Purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees and more loyal customers, and are even better at innovation and transformational change. It seems to be easier to win the game when you care about the game.”

More specifically, they found that 58% of prioritizers said they experienced growth of 10% or more over the past three years, compared with 51% of the developers and 42% of the laggards. (5)

When it came to innovation, the survey showed that leaders who leveraged purpose as a core driver of strategy and decision making reported greater capability to innovate and grow their revenue consistently. Specifically, 53% of executives who said their organization had a strong sense of purpose said they were successful with innovation and transformation efforts, compared with 31% of those who are trying to articulate a sense of purpose and 19% of organizations who have not thought about it at all.

The bottom line? Purpose improves that, too: 42% of laggards reported flat or declining revenue over the past three years, compared with 19% of developers and only 15% of prioritizers. (5)

Michael Beer, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, said in the report, “There is an increasing awareness that the purpose of a company has to be beyond shareholder value, and that this is not something that will cost your business but something that will enhance your business.”


Why? Because Your Employees and Audience Care About the World

According to the report, change management experts suggest that employees may be the most important audience for messages around purpose because if the internal team has not bought into the purpose, the customers will know - and quickly.

While critical, providing employees with a sense of fulfillment is still only one side of the token. Consumers also want to be reassured that the brands they interact with do good in the world. Corporate responsibility plays such a large role that many people will boycott companies that have practices that don’t align with their own morality or world view.

According to Fast Company, millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations. 68% of millennials say creating change in the world is a personal goal that they actively pursue, while 42% of boomers agree. The number of people invested in positive change will only continue to grow with each new generation.

This trend is impacted by our fluid access to information. News spreads like wildfire, and if a company does something unsavory or off point, people will know. We have also come to expect a deeper, authentic relationship with brands that can now connect with us in so many ways.

It is essential that companies develop the kind of leaders who can communicate and align the whole organization around purpose. “It’s easy to state a purpose and state a set of values. It’s much harder to enact them in the organization because it requires you to continually search for consistency across many disciplines and many activities,” said Beer in the HBR report.


The Future: A Purpose-Backed Economy

In addition to a more informed and critical audience, work itself continues to evolve. We're now confronted with changes in technology that allow us to see a future where the artificial workers will surpass the human ones. We are, once again, keenly aware of the fragility of our own importance.

Our work must become more human-centered, recognizing that the changes in technology will eventually result in an economy that does not have financial motivations at all.

Dr. Lindsay Portnoy, a cognitive psychologist, wrote an article titled ‘Human Motivation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ in which she talks about the shift from “me” to “we”:

“Why are people using their “limited discretionary time” to contribute to the open source projects that fuel our current economy? In a word: purpose. The rise of the digital economy has shed light on the intrinsic motivator of purpose, which drives people to share their expertise in their limited free time, free of charge.

Creative leaders have always understood that engaging humans in purposeful work increases motivation and leads to greater outcomes.”

She continues on to say that, assuming basic needs are met, our minds are free to work toward the sense of purpose we innately seek.

She explores how our economy and culture will work alongside the rise of smarter technology, even to the point where technology replaces the human part of the equation.

She confesses that while we cannot accurately predict the future, our human drive toward purpose will remain.

Even now, we all want work that feels meaningful, and organizations want committed employees thriving within a work environment that fosters more productivity, creativity, authenticity, and basic human value.

And customers want a brand they can believe in, one that speaks to their values and promises to make the world better. One that understands that the time - and money - devoted to that brand should matter.

But we also need to recognize that our basic motivations for working, for being productive as human beings, will increasingly need to come from a place of meaningful impact as we move forward.

It's time for purpose to lead the way.


Purpose Must Drive Business

“Every decision should be looked at in terms of purpose,” said Raj Sisodia, author of Conscious Capitalism, as part of the HBR report. “Some decisions may be purpose neutral. But purpose is certainly not just a marketing issue or positioning of your brand image. Purpose should impact every aspect of the firm.”

We must go beyond the bottom line, the party line, and current quick fix. Everyone at an organization from the C-suite to the accounting department must understand the brand’s purpose and make their decisions with that purpose front of mind.

In fact, using purpose as the primary base for strategy will streamline the way decisions are made. Instead of looking outside for opportunities and financial gain as the way to know what to do next, you decide where you want to be strategically based on your purpose and driven by your mission.

The future of the world - and your work - is up to you.

The focus provided by this change in thinking only serves to underscore the clear financial, performance, employee engagement and retention, innovation, and customer-centric benefits that a core purpose provides. It also recognizes the future of work and the evolving economic landscape.

It’s a driving force with untapped potential. Let’s lead the way with purpose.