Why Purpose Really Matters to Business

Humans have always been purpose-led – a clear purpose in a demanding world provides an anchor to motivate and guide us. However, in recent years, Boards and organisations have become increasingly interested in the intrinsic value clear organisational purpose can offer the business and wider society. For many organisations this is now an important strategic objective.

Given the immense interest in this area, CRF recently held an HR Leaders’ Forum, bringing together international business leaders and academics to discuss the ‘why’ and ‘how’ around ‘Building Purposeful Organisations’. We discussed how more organisations are asking themselves ‘What impact do we have?’ and ‘How do we create a binding sense of purpose?’. To help achieve this, many attendees highlighted the importance of underpinning purpose with clear values (‘how we do things around here’) for consistency and sustainability. Colleagues shared how developing and sustaining communications strategies to fuel mission and purpose were important in many senses including for consumer and employer brand, recruiting the right people, employee engagement and driving a sustainable future for the organisation.

Our discussions also revealed a sense that purpose must evolve in line with changing missions, products and services. Don’t be too rigid – lead a movement with purpose; don’t manage a static organisational project plan! Day-to-day use guidelines, stories and frameworks (not lengthy policies) will engage hearts and mind. Be genuine and inspiring.

The traditional notion of a ‘career’ has been disrupted; frameworks and job design must also evolve to support organisations of the future and flexible and purposeful ways of working. Increasingly work is becoming ‘who you are’, instead of, ‘what you do’.

In addition, last month in a PARC webinar led by Prof. Alex Edmans entitled ‘Grow The Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit’, Alex shared that traditionally organisations focused on ‘do no harm’, but this has evolved with many organisations being much more actively focused on doing good and being genuinely purpose-led. There is an understanding now that serving society leads to better profits and that legislation and compliance can only take an organisation so far – true commitment is needed to be genuinely purpose-led and to reap the benefits.

As the impact of Covid-19 continues, the importance of purpose and mission will no doubt continue to drive individuals and organisations to question, develop and / or evolve their purpose and values. Hopefully there will be some inspiring success stories to share in the coming years of how recent events – from Covid-19 to ‘Black Lives Matter’ – have inspired mission and purpose that have benefited both the organisation and wider society. That would really bring organisational purpose to life!

(This blog touched on a few key organisational purpose concepts – if you’re interested in further models, examples, case studies and general food for thought on this topic, I encourage you to check out the linked resources referred to above).

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