By MaryLee Sachs
The benefits of implementing a business purpose are beyond doubt—those that do it successfully enjoy than their nonpurposeful competitors. Nearly nine out of 10 CEOs say their business has a purpose. But how many businesses use purpose to make meaningful change and drive sustainable growth?
Putting purpose to work
Today, all organizations are working against a global backdrop of geopolitical change that includes climate crises, rampant inflation, and the steady march of generative artificial intelligence. If your company doesn’t define what it stands for and its future direction now, it will be much harder to do so later.
Brandpie’s fifth annual global CEO Purpose Report brings welcome news. We are seeing more organizations use purpose as a strategic business tool—63% of 1,000 CEOs we surveyed across industries say they incorporate purpose into high-level decision making.
But there is still much work to do for purpose to fulfill its potential. No leaders yet use purpose to guide all their decision making. Why not? The resounding answer—and the enduring challenge—that more than half of the CEOs cite is the question of how to put purpose to work.
If your organization struggles with putting purpose at the center of its business strategy, these five steps can help you move from statement to action.
1. Ensure your purpose is actionable.
Let’s backtrack a little. Defining a purpose statement is a challenge for nearly half of the leaders in the survey. Your purpose connects what your business does with what the world needs in a meaningful way. It should inspire, challenge, and enable you to build long-term value. Your purpose should also be relevant and meaningful to all internal and external stakeholders. They need to connect with it. That’s a lot to ask from something that starts its life as a written statement of intent.
So here’s the first question to consider when defining your purpose: Is it actionable? Paradoxically, a purpose statement should not be achievable. (Save that for your organizational ambition.) Set out a purpose that is evergreen, something you always strive to improve on. The simplest purpose statements are often the most powerful and enduring.
2. Align leadership with your purpose.
To have a powerful purpose that resonates with your entire workforce, you have to work from the top down. The executive leadership team needs to buy into the purpose if it is to be embedded effectively, energize the organization, and become the compass for every decision.
As workforces increasingly work in silos, remotely and virtually, it becomes harder to make everyone across the organization aware of your purpose—let alone use it as a jumping-off point for action.
Only 26% of our survey respondents say purpose helps them align senior leaders. That marks a missed opportunity; we’ve seen firsthand the powerful motivating effect purpose has at the executive leadership level.
3. Become purpose-driven internally.
While salary and benefits will always be important to employees, people now also want to work for organizations with a clear purpose, where they can make a meaningful contribution.
Being purposeful stems from developing a single idea that puts what you do firmly at the heart of the business. But the idea must be as actionable as it is inspirational, grounded in the everyday reality of what the business does and how it operates. The message is that everyone across the business can work together to achieve its purpose.
So weave purpose and culture into the employee experience. Draw from it to create your employee value proposition. Apply it to employees’ daily working processes. Embed it throughout your culture programs.
4. Convey your purpose to external stakeholders.
The more purposeful an organization is, the easier it becomes to have meaningful conversations with key external influencers—not just its customers and investors but also its business ecosystem partners, the communities where it operates, and even governmental affairs bodies.
Beyond motivating people, purpose must become a lens through which to make bigger strategic decisions. Far from a one-off project, purpose is a long-term, ongoing process that lives and breathes in an organization’s culture, brand, campaigns, programs, and ambitions.
5. Advocate for change.
By now, the role of businesses in helping achieve meaningful change in the world is not merely accepted but expected. Business is a powerful engine for innovation and uniquely placed to deliver change at scale. Yet only 28% of CEOs in the survey say they use purpose to “advocate for positive change on important topics.”
This needs to change. Responsible leaders use purpose to empower teams and create cultures where change can happen. They bring partners, suppliers, and shareholders along on the journey to build shared value—and in doing so, become the market leaders of tomorrow.
It’s time to take purpose from words to action.
Need help turning your purpose from words into action? Brandpie has helped businesses power progress through purpose for more than 15 years. Get in touch to learn more.
MaryLee Sachs is CEO U.S. at the purpose-driven transformation consultancy Brandpie.