Business purpose can drive deep transformation if the change process is inclusive.
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As we reach a tipping point in late stage capitalism, we’ve heard a lot about a shift in focus from profit to purpose. With the coronavirus pandemic threatening the entire economic system, statements of good intent from business giants such as BlackRock to Airbnb will be tested in the months ahead.
Companies of all sizes want be seen to be doing well by doing good, but customers and employees have never been more keenly aware of purpose-washing and bandwagon behaviour. Finding a purpose that rings true for your company, and using it to successfully drive positive change, requires the alignment of culture, strategy and brand.
Creating value beyond shareholders
Putting purpose at the heart of business is not just a matter of good intentions, but of enacting change. And change is happening whether we like it or not.
Old power structures are breaking down. As we enter the era of stakeholder capitalism, top-down hierarchies are being challenged by new, more systemic approaches that create value for a larger and more diverse set of humans that make up the entire organization – from bottom to top – as well as customers and wider society.
With such rapid change happening all around us, many businesses are out of step, and need to transform in order to survive and thrive. Executives must find meaning that connects customers and all team members to feel part of something bigger than product – the organisation is more than the product. Businesses need to get to know themselves in new terms, and find new frameworks to operate with.
Breaking out of the organizational silos
Uncovering purpose can be the foundation of business transformation. Purpose informs business strategy and clarifies the steps needed to realise business vision. Purpose breathes life into a brand, shaping how it speaks, looks and feels.
When employees experience a corporate culture that truly reflects a company’s purpose, they feel affinity with the organisation and are motivated to pull in the same direction. Conversely, when workers experience a disconnect in brand promise and how they are treated, the perceived hypocrisy leads to demotivation and resentment.
To have real power, a brand’s purpose must resonate throughout the whole organisation and beyond. A collaborative approach is key. That means breaking out of silos and inviting contributions from across the company. Even at the top, the functions that need to work together – strategy, marketing and people – rarely talk. They all have their own budgets, and their own specialist advisers (who don’t talk either).
To change that, you need to create a purpose working group that represents all three areas. Ideally, it should also represent a cross-section of levels in the organization. Assembling a team of high-potential people who are not in management, sharing information and taking on their perspectives can go a long way to overcoming cynicism about purpose-led transformation as it’s no longer perceived as top-down.
Getting people behind strategic goals
As the late Michael Porter said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Without people being behind strategic goals, execution doesn’t happen. When your brand promises something the culture can’t hold, you’re not authentic and consumers will find out. Your own people can steer you on this. When strategy isn’t aligned with brand, there will be no impact. Purpose – knowing why we do what we do – is the centre where strategy, culture and brand meet.
Many small steps
Solving problems and fostering growth in this new business landscape requires whole-system thinking. Creative approaches that value people as the beating heart of a business and prioritise a positive working culture will reap rewards in the years ahead. It can be tempting to go for radical change and grand gestures, but most of the time success comes in many small steps. Landing on your business purpose isn’t the work. It’s just the start.
Four steps to kick-start alignment:
Conduct an experiment
Ask three people at the water cooler what your strategy/culture/brand is. It’ll give you a good feeling for where you stand as an organization
Carry out an audit
An external partner can uncover valuable insights, giving you a clearer picture on how far your strategy, culture and brand are aligned.
Once you have identified blockages, ask yourself, how can your strategic, people and marketing functions help to remove these?
Run a pilot
Identify one business goal and task the three functions with achieving it together
GW+Co is a London-based creative consultancy. Their international team of creatives and strategists work with associates from the fields of management consultancy, anthropology and leadership development.
Gilmar Wendt founded the company in 2010 after a 25-year career in design and strategy, working with blue chips and privately owned international businesses. GW+Co has won numerous creative and design effectiveness awards. Notable clients include PayPal, Yale, Ergo and Zumtobel Group. www.gilmarwendt.com