Does Your Company Have A Real Corporate Purpose?

By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer, Ideal Outcomes Inc.

Chances are your company has a beautifully worded purpose statement. Someone in the marketing department eloquently expressed the corporate desire to contribute to the world and not just be a profit-making machine.

Was the thought process behind your purpose statement based on research showing that consumers and employees favor such companies? A study by Cone/Porter Novelli (registration required), for instance, found 79% of consumers said they'd be more loyal to purpose-driven brands than traditional brands. Studies have also shown that employees who see their job as meaningful perform better and identify more strongly with their company.

Why not give customers and employees exactly what they want?

You should—as long as your purpose is real and not an opportunistic marketing gimmick or an attempt to appear socially conscious that’s been labeled “purpose washing.” Companies eager to jump on the purpose bandwagon—without having a true, meaningful purpose—are in danger of tripping themselves up. As Becky Willan, co-founder of a brand purpose agency, put it, “In the rush to stand for something, some organizations have risked putting the purpose ‘story’ ahead of the purpose plan and actions.”

So, how do you make sure you have a real corporate purpose? 

Build a genuine connection.

This is easier, of course, for brands that came into existence with a social purpose at the forefront of their very being. Think Patagonia, for example, with its considerable environmental programs. Your purpose's promise must be in sync with the purpose that employees and customers experience. Whatever cause you support must be relevant. For example, it’s hard to see how a company that spews chemicals into the air can suddenly embrace a "save the planet" strategy without appearing to be hypocritical. Whatever business you are in, remember that you must have a genuine connection to your stated purpose. 

Lead by example.

As I mentioned in my book, leaders must lead by example by living their purpose and exhibiting it in every action they take. Purpose begins at the top but thrives when everyone in the organization buys into it and feels that you're all in it together.

Spread the word.

Continuously promote the company purpose in every communication with your workforce, including emails, newsletters, blogs, podcasts and town halls. When you change a business strategy, make sure you explain how it aligns with your purpose. Share stories of how various team members are actively living the organizational purpose. Real-life examples are the best examples of all.

One of my clients, for instance, encourages company purpose through seven cultural pillars that clearly describe why they exist. The learning and development program, which we created for this global manufacturer, includes a three-year plan to create more than 600 middle managers based on those seven pillars. The strategy is to empower managers with the skills and competencies to consistently communicate and model key behaviors that form the pillars.

Another client’s most important issue is safety — for employees and the public. This company, a large public utility, communicates its purpose by opening all of its meetings with a message about safety.

Purpose needs to be front and center throughout the employee life cycle, including recruiting, onboarding, feedback and performance management.

Keep your promises.

Whatever your stated purpose, stick to it. Don’t pay lip service to it. Live it and promote it. Make it real. If it’s not real, consumers and employees alike are bound to notice and be unforgiving. As Daniel Goleman, best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence, wrote, “When it comes to making your branding promise more purposeful, remember that stakeholders are getting quicker to question. And it’s not so easy to recover from a broken promise.”

From my perspective, the bottom line when it comes to having a company purpose is this: While the concept that business as a force for good is increasingly relevant and important, your organization's purpose must be real to have a meaningful and lasting impact.