What is purpose-driven business?
Many organisations call themselves purpose-driven businesses and embrace purpose beyond profit into their business strategy.
Some, inevitably, treat social purpose as no more than window-dressing. For them, purpose is a slightly more sophisticated form of distraction theory; look at all the good we’re doing on the periphery so you don’t notice that our core business is continuing in as exploitative and self-seeking manner as ever before.
Other businesses have opened their eyes to the link between unfettered capitalism and environmental or social degradation. These businesses recognise they must play their part in solving the world’s greatest, some would say existential, problems.
These are the organisations we help. We collaborate with clients to adopt the programme outlined below and use it to protect and enhance their reputation.
The British Academy defines business purpose as “profitably solving the problems of people and planet, and not profiting from creating problems.”
In other words, the whole company is geared towards solving societal and environmental issues in a way that makes money. It is not anti-capitalist; rather it seeks to redirect capitalist, entrepreneurial zeal in a positive direction.
And, of course, that probably means it will not be capitalist in the traditional sense. One of the major problems purpose-driven businesses seek to address is the way in which financial rewards are distributed throughout society. The de-facto position is that asset owners benefit at the expense of those who work for a living.
Benefits of purpose-driven business
Expressing a purpose beyond profit benefits business as well as society.
In their report, The Courage of their Convictions, Danone and Tomorrow’s Company use interviews with 20 companies who espouse a purpose beyond profit to distill the benefits and the ways to succeed.
These benefits included:
- more fulfilled staff and better recruitment
- staff thinking less of their own position and more committed to the company’s goals
- an improved licence to operate from regulators and public opinion
- more loyal consumers
- investors see success and want to invest
We hope purpose matters to you. If not, please don’t contact us. If it does, contact us to integrate a social purpose into your business and into the way you communicate.
How to create a purpose-driven business
The first role of public relations is to listen. Listen to the world’s mood music and pass that information onto clients to help them make better decisions.
We hear that the pandemic has made a fundamental change. It is the first time that people and brands around the world have united around a common issue. That’s powerful.
And yet, the growth of social media, of whistleblowing and of a generation of media-savvy customers and opinion-formers means that those brands and their social impact drivers are now being tested as never before. Consumers are no longer willing to believe unless they experience the true impact of what the brand claims. So those who merely seek window-dressing and distraction are going to be found out.
Give yourself a break. You cannot solve everything.
As a business owner, what drives you, what makes you mad, where you feel injustice cut you to the heart is a good place to start. Does that resonate with your staff and other stakeholders? If so, focus on that.
But passion is not enough on its own. As a business person, you understand the need to be specific, to have a specific goal, something you can work towards through a realistic plan. So, taking that burning issue as your starting point, in what way can you have the biggest impact?
The best purpose for your business will be found at the intersection of what you do best and what is the predominant ethical, environmental or social challenge where your business can make a difference.
Your purpose can untap potential in your sector, such as Toyota, which works on the ‘future of mobility’. It can address a specific issue. This is a tactic used by clothing retailer Patagonia, which focuses on environmental activism. Or it can focus on the potential of your customers, like Nike, which seeks to ‘bring inspiration and innovation’ to all athletes (which, as they say, means anyone with a body).
Having a measurable goal is vital. A woolly purpose makes it very difficult for customers and employees to pin down what progress towards the goal would actually look like. This breeds lack of engagement since employees do not know what they should do.
So, you’ve listened, consulted and made a decision. What comes next is action.
Your words will mean nothing until you act. Where do your business practices most impact on that purpose you have set? Start there. Bring in your staff, your suppliers, your customers into an alliance to make the changes you want to see. That means investment. It will mean challenge. It will mean changing ingrained behaviours and processes.
But that’s what businesses do isn’t it? We change, we adapt, we respond to the challenges we face. Treat purpose-driven challenges in the same way. If you set your talents and your teams at work on these problems in the same was as they would tackle that production bottle-neck or staffing rota problem, they will come up trumps.
If your purpose is your brand, you need to weave that purpose through the whole company.
You may have to rethink your staff training, procurement practices and marketing plans to align with your purpose.
That means staff consultation is vital to ensure your employees support your purpose and believe it is consistent with your core values. Most importantly, what ideas do they have. Many of the best expressions of business purpose will come from engaged staff members.
Purpose is collaborative, so decide which partners you will work with and engage social influencers to join your mission.
All your communications activities play a vital role in establishing your reputation as a purpose-led business, supported at all times by your actions.
Tell the world. There’s nothing more frustrating for a PR professional than a brand which does great things for great reasons but is too frightened of scaring its peers or its customers to say so.
Create a communications plan (internal and external) centred on your purpose-driven actions, what society problems they seek to solve. Use this to inspire your teams, create a demand amongst your customers and support your relationship with local communities, regulators and influencers.
And, to go back to where we started, listen to the response. Listen and adapt. Listen and revise your plans. Listen and bring the formerly dark areas of your business and its supply chains into the light. Above all, listen and improve.