back to purpose magazine arrow

Why do you exist beyond making money?

Fiona Le Brocq

There has been nothing more heartening as a marketer than to see the increasing interest and commitment by organisations to being Purpose-led.

Jim Collins is attributed as one of the earliest proponents of Purpose, with a very clear definition that your purpose is ‘why you exist beyond making money’. Clarifying this has been a hard nut to crack with many companies – I know because I’ve facilitated purpose planning sessions for more than ten years and witnessed many blank expressions when the group are asked to consider this question. With senior managers trained to focus on financial goals as a priority, and rewarded for them, there has been little aperture to expand thinking beyond what we do, to get to the why we do it.

Organisations that focus beyond profits and instill a sense of purpose among their employees are more likely to find long-term success

I think one of the hurdles for many executives is that purpose seems lofty, soft and even a luxury – it’s anything but. I’ve often used Apple as an example to demonstrate how purpose translates to the bottom line. Apple’s purpose is “To make a contribution to the world to make tools for the mind that advance mankind”. Yes, it may sound lofty, but in 2000 the brand was valued at US$6.6bn, and in 2013, US$98.3bn. They also pipped Google at the post for poll position in BrandZ’s Most Valuable Global Brands in 2015.

Apple’s purpose doesn’t talk to unique features and benefits, but stakes out a provocative and valued position in our society. We don’t have to imagine what sort of people are attracted to this type of organisation, or the thinking and concepting this type of purpose will drive – we just have to look at what it has delivered in the form the iPod, iPhone and most recently the Apple Watch and acknowledge that they are indeed delivering to their purpose.

The rise of employee engagement has also increased understanding of the role purpose can play. We now accept that acknowledging emotions in the workplace will actually enhance productivity because people don’t want to work only for a salary and benefits. They want to make a difference by being part of something meaningful, contributing to something important and something bigger than themselves. The role of purpose in this case is to connect people emotionally with their work. They’ll love you, they’ll stay with your they’ll be more resilient when times get tough.

To bring this a little closer to home, I had the privilege of working at NAB a few years ago, one of Australia’s Big 4 banks. The business strategy was ‘Fair Value Exchange’ in which the purpose was inherent – fair exchange of costs for products and services, or more succinctly, reciprocity. This was critical for the organisation for which differentiation from the Big 4 was the only path to growth. This led us to develop the positioning of ‘More Give, Less Take’, and was the genesis for the world-acclaimed ‘Break Up’ campaign. The business results were staggering, moving preference from No. 3 to No. 1, and took NAB to No.1 in customer satisfaction for the first time in 10 years.

More recently I was Director of Marketing at SEEK Limited, the No.1 global online employment group. The Exec was committed to articulating our purpose as a means of connecting and unifying all employees, and have a positive impact on society. SEEK already do this by facilitating matching the right people with the right job. But the purpose took this even further: “To help people become for productive and fulfilled, and help organisations succeed”. This led to a compelling cultural manifesto which has increased employee engagement to 80%, and to the ‘Change’ campaign, encouraging people to embrace change in order that they will thrive, rather than just cope with their working lives. This led to the highest ever brand engagement score and the strongest lead over SEEK’s competitors.

The 2013 Deloitte Core Beliefs & Culture survey explored this new context for business and found that organisations that focus beyond profits and instill a sense of purpose among their employees are more likely to find long-term success.

“When it’s understood that Purpose brings power and meaning to your employees, driving deeper connection and engagement in their day-to-day jobs, then the benefits for most organisations is manifest” said said Punit Renjen, chairman of the board at Deloitte.

“What companies do for clients, people, communities and society are all interconnected. A culture of purpose ensures that management and employees alike see each as a reason to go to work every day.”

With this greater understanding, do we really need to keep asking “Why purpose?”.