Purpose drivenness is getting a lot of bandwidth in business talk. Purpose in this context assumes the meaning of having an appreciated higher purpose and not just e.g. making profit. Ideologically and semantically, profit is the consequence of purpose – not the purpose itself. You have surely seen and heard about how purpose driven companies are allegedly much more likely to be successful than those that are not. Attributes associated with purpose are authenticity, people centricity, importance of shared values and cohesive and a comprehensive narrative extending from employer branding and a genuine sense of purpose to external communication, brand and image.
PURPOSE IS ABOUT WHY
Purpose drivenness can be seen also as a calling where organizations may have a cult-like demeanor associated with their purpose. It often has to do with a strong ethical code as well as with philanthropy, proven environmental acumen and social compliance. Purpose is about Why and not about What. It is more about We than Us.
I see purpose drivenness as an evolutionary stage in corporate development, akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a company/organization may develop to having an urge to self-actualize. For the purpose to be genuine, the sense of purpose should be built into the genetic code of every employee, from shop floor to the boardroom.
THE PURPOSE OF PURPOSE
There have been purpose driven companies since the start of time, but the emergence of the millennials seems to have amplified the development. Various studies indicate that purpose is a driver of innovation and transformation. It is fuel similar to that of scarcity, which is a similar driver. Purpose is about story-telling . Classical examples of purpose led companies are Apple, Disney, Cuyana, Patagonia, General Mills etc. Genuinely purpose driven companies seem to be in most cases ones which operate predominantly in the B2C market, where emotions play a stronger role in purchasing selection criteria than in B2B.
Is purpose important for a B2B company? I think it is, but I think more from an internal perspective than from an external one. I doubt professional buyers really care about their vendors’ purpose, unless on a rare occasion when all other criteria are equal, the tipping point might be a softer KPI. On the external front, purpose does impact the employee market much more directly than the customers.
Purpose often starts from leadership and value based culture hard-codes purpose into the entire organization. It is a wholesome asset which helps attract and retain the best talent, it engages customers, it can improve customer loyalty, it can provide a sustainable argument for charging a premium and results in better financial performance.
When I joined Bilot as CEO, one aspect I thought about carefully is that in my role as a spokesperson, I want to have a sensation that I genuinely believe in what we do and that we have a raison d’être which somehow differentiates us from the rest of the kids on the block.
SEARCHING FOR BILOT’S PURPOSE
Honestly, at the time I didn’t acknowledge that I was looking for purpose, but in hindsight, I was probably unconsciously thinking about it. I wanted to be confident that I can have pride in what we do and that there is also some sort of a (higher) purpose for our existence. The company founders said in unison, that the company’s birth was ignited by an urge to do things right and to provide a working environment where the best possible talent feel at home and flourish.
The founders oozed genuine passion and were duly proud that they had largely succeeded in staying true to their purpose for the first couple of years by then. The evidence was undisputed: extremely low attrition, extremely satisfied customers, a throbbing people pipeline and a proven reputation that the company was one of the most sought after in the employee market in its category.
VALUES AND NORMS EMBEDDED IN FOUR WORDS
It took us almost a decade to articulate our slogan in a way, which I feel, coins our attitude fairly well: We Stand For More. I see it also as our purpose in disguise and from this perspective it resonates really well. It has a multi-purposeful nobility about it. Standing for more, means we are superior to others in every aspect and it is thus a superlative. Although it tastes like a marketing slogan, in fact our values and norms are cleverly embedded in those four words. #WSFM is commonly used internally and although every employee will have a slightly different and personal interpretation of it, there is a striking homogeneity among them. It also translates an internal purpose into a currency accepted by the customers.
Last Friday we had our acclaimed annual Bilot Spring Trip™, which attracts a staggering 75%-85% of the staff for a two day excursion even though the destination and program is not disclosed beforehand. In the official part of the program we brought up purpose as “food for thought” and asked for people’s views on whether Bilot has a purpose or not. Having had heavily recruited people for over a decade, it was good moment to gauge if #WSFM still holds strong and if it has perhaps evolved to something else. At least for myself, based on how my fellow-bilots behave intuitively – with dedication, with genuine customer commitment, with anti-predjudism, demonstrating exemplary work ethic and with strong collegiality – I think we have managed to sustain an authentic culture of purpose.
I recommend everyone to think about this from time to time.