Purpose Matters in Business

“Lean in to Purpose”  – Jonathan Mildenhall

I was recently at a conference where Jonathan Mildenhall was a key note speaker. For those of you who don’t know Jonathan (and I don’t expect you to), he was previously the Chief Marketing Officer at Coca Cola and is now the Chief Marketing Officer at AirBnB. His marketing pedigree is not the topic of this message, but his passion for building “purpose driven companies” is.

His presentation was fantastic. In fact, as he took us through a journey of his career and some of the hallmark marketing campaigns he has overseen with Coca Cola and AirBnB, you could clearly see the impact that purpose has on those two organizations. And its not that these two companies are charities – far from that. But their commitment to purpose helped drive both to notable growth and brand success. Consider the following elements of Purpose from each of these companies:

• Coca Cola: To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
• AirBnB: Creating real connections/friendships between likeminded people

When you think about it, those are meaningful and impactful purpose statements. They say something unique and different about the culture of each company, and can inspire both employees and customers alike behind their brand.

Which leads me to the purpose (a little play on words) of this post. Purpose driven companies are more successful than those who are not. And by successful, I mean in virtually every aspect of its definition – growth, profit, engagement, retention, and satisfaction. As leaders and team members alike the importance of embracing purpose in business has never been more important.

Jonathan’s speech inspired me to do a little research on the concept of both “purpose” and “purpose driven companies”. Turns out this isn’t such a new concept. Having “purpose” in our lives is the essence of what it means to be human. Our consciousness and awareness of both ourselves and others, the knowledge of our mortality, the need for meaning, and the yearning to make something of it is what separates us from all other animals.

Ask any Millennial and they will tell you quickly now important purpose is to them. Ask any Boomer to reminisce on their youthful days and they will not doubt recognize the same struggle for purpose was behind their generational stereotypes. And for those stuck in the middle (like me), no doubt our struggle to be recognized as something other than some random letter (Gen X – how generic can you get) is driven by the need for purpose.

So if purpose is so fundamental to what makes us human, why only recently are we hearing so much about its place in business. Again, not a new concept. There are examples throughout history of organizations whose existence was closely tied to purpose. To be fair, not all businesses embrace this concept. But there are plenty that do. The more recent awareness is likely tied to the advancement of technology and the awareness it has created. With social media, the gravity of the masses are empowered to recognize and both reward or punish those organizations that don’t embrace purpose.

But what I find most interesting is how dramatic the impact is for purpose driven companies. In researching for this message I did a search on Google for “why purpose driven companies are more successful”. I got back 20 million results. Articles from Harvard Business Review, E&Y, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., Huffington Post, Gallup – to name a few. Consider the following studies that suggest purpose driven companies:

• Have more motivated employees. According to a recent study by BNET, “29% of respondents said that doing something meaningful was the most motivating thing about work. Money motivated 25%, and recognition 17%. (BNET)
• Increased productivity by up to 30% (Center for Economic Studies)
• See improved engagement scores of up to 240% higher (Gallup)
The outcome is an increase in both revenues and profit. According to one recent 10 year study by The Purpose Institute:
• 42% of companies that were not considered “purpose- driven” showed a drop in revenues.
• On the other side, 85% of purpose-led companies showed positive revenue growth.

No wonder noted business strategists like Jim Collins, Peter Drucker and others have harped on the importance of purpose in building a business. Many share the same sentiments as Paul Klein of Forbes Magazine: “Great companies go beyond ubiquitous statements of corporate values to nurture a dialogue to keep social purpose at the forefront of everyone’s mind and ensure that employees use the organizational values as a guide for business decisions.”

Purpose matters in business. Will you “Lean in to purpose”?

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