How to shift to a purpose-driven business [Opinion]

Many entrepreneurs started their businesses with the vision of making a difference in the world. They defined their purpose early on, and very often it wasn’t just about making a profit. 

However, as businesses mature and new leadership steps in the purpose become lost in the clamber to make profit

Many businesses that started out with purpose now exist purely for the bottom line. 

The global pandemic has certainly been an eye-opener for most businesses that have had to dig deep in order to stay afloat, especially those whose sole reason for existing was profit. Some have reinvented themselves, while others closed shop.

Those who’ve made it through the first wave of the virus and full-blown lockdown have chosen to reassess their purpose – and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 

Globally there is a move to assess how business impacts the environment including climate change and sustainability; social constructs such as diversity and human rights in the workplace, consumer protection, and animal welfare; and governance, which refers to management structures, employee relations, and executive and employee compensation.  

Pepe Marais, co-founder, and chief creative officer of Joe Public is a luminary for purposeful brands. While the two are intertwined, he suggests that once you establish purpose the profits will follow. He shares his advice for businesses wanting to make the shift. 

What does having purpose mean for your business?

Having a purpose inspires everything in the business, from systems to processes and company culture or internal communication, PR, and mass communication. It is the simplicity that is needed in the VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) we exist in today and an imperative to business sustainability in a world post-Covid-19. 

Know the difference between purpose and the means to achieve it

Most businesses link their purpose to what they sell, produce or build. A product or service is not necessarily the purpose, and in most instances, it isn’t. It is the means by which a business achieves its higher purpose. 

But what happens when founders sell-off and a new team takes over?

The business’s purpose often resides in the unconscious of the founder. When the founder moves on and new boards and personalities run the business, you find that the residue of the purpose lives in the unconscious of the new leadership. So, even though the business might now be all about profit, the purpose can still be uncovered. 

Processes involved in defining purpose

The discovery of the unconscious driver of a business, beyond profit, is a profound one. When I work with founders as well as new leadership teams, I take them through a process that brings this unconscious driver to the forefront. The process enables the team to identify one word that the business stands for, and then they write a clear definition for exactly what that one word means.

This definition, or meaning, can’t be decided on until the entire team settles on the same one word that defines the company’s purpose. 

The process is ultimately a multi-hour, guided conversation. It’s also a process of elimination. There is no such thing as getting it wrong because of the process one goes through to achieve this common understanding. 

Global trends encouraging the shift

Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) refer to the three central factors in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company or business. This is being used globally to better determine the future financial performance of companies (return and risk). 

Beyond this, millennials and Gen Zs are determined to build a better future, a new Deloitte survey finds. They remain resilient in the face of adversity and are determined to drive positive change in their communities and around the world.

This means they will choose to align with brands that have a purpose linked to any or all of the ESG pillars. If a business wants to remain relevant in the future and make a profit they will need to keep this in mind.   

Challenges along the way

Change by its nature isn’t easy. There has to be a resonance between what people feel, and what they think. Very often, people may well know what changes need to be made but still believe something else. This is called cognitive dissonance. It can take some time before a shift takes place. 

Evidence is also scarce. Because of cognitive dissonance, many business owners fail to put what they learn into practice because they expect to see the same outcome as if they were measuring profits. Finding your brand’s purpose is measured differently and it will require patience and belief in the process.  

Practice your purpose

Once you identify your brand’s purpose, you need to put it into action. Failing to do so, is like intention without action. It simply will not yield a profound result. Defining and clarifying the purpose of a business is just the starting point.

It is only once the purpose is implemented within the business, once all people in the organisation are clear on the purpose, and once the business starts to deliver on this purpose through measurable metrics, that a change will be experienced in the profit margin of the business. 

Growth and change can feel unpleasant at first, however, it’s not unlike making a personal change – such as adopting the habits of mindfulness. Once you have a routine, or process, that works it is quite easy to stick to especially once the benefits come pouring in. 

This article was written by Pepe Marais.

Featured image: Pepe Marais, (Supplied)



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