strategy
19 Oct 2020

Purpose as a journey

Purpose as a journey

Across boardrooms and business media, purpose is on the agenda more and more often. But don’t we already have enough labels on our organisation that more or less describe why we exist?

This is my take on what purpose is all about and some of the key learnings I have gathered from helping many organisations work on theirs. So, let's jump in.

What purpose is all about

In most cases, a purpose initiative tends to be led by the Head of Communication or Marketing, looking to build a statement that describes why the organisation exists. More specifically, how it creates meaning and value not only for its shareholders but for the people it touches, for the society in which it operates, and last but not least for the environment. Management and even the board is involved, and ambassadors are appointed to engage co-workers throughout the organisation.

Many may say, 'Well, that´s just marketing' or 'Peanut-buttering the slogan, are we?'. I say it depends on what happens next. Crafting a purpose statement is only the start, helping leaders and their teams align the organisation and understand what the purpose means for its people and their jobs is another thing entirely. How else can they be be motivated to act on it? To put it directly, a purpose initiative is not worth the effort if the organisation is not committed to delivering on it.

Speaking of purpose, we tend to benchmark forerunners like Patagonia, TOM´s shoes and Warby Parker. For them, their reason for existing has permeated the ambition, strategy and business model from day one. However, for most companies, growth and success is built on superior performance, hence benchmarking ourselves to the examples above can be quite tricky.

Meanwhile, a growing number of organisations are transforming themselves to become purpose-led. We can look at IKEA and how they are developing new circular business models, exploring services like renting, repairing, and refurbishing - to create a better everyday life for many people. Or how Stora Enso is openly stating that they are on a journey to transform from a traditional paper and board producer, to a renewable materials growth company, actively demonstrating progress and driving thought leadership.

Getting started on the purpose journey

What this tells us, is that every organisation needs to articulate its own - what I call - a purpose journey. To get started, I will share a few things that my fellow team members and I have found to be useful to keep in mind.

CLARITY Let’s align corporate terminology. What does eg. purpose, ambition, strategy, values or value propositions mean to us? How do they relate to one another? What labels do we really need going forward? I often hear the question 'Can we really say this is our purpose as we are not there yet?' As a result of that question, the purpose statement is re-phrased into something close to a safe version of the vision. To avoid this type of misunderstandings and even counter-productive outcomes, it is worthwhile ensuring a shared understanding of how purpose and vision relate to one another. While a purpose lasts and evolves over time, a vision has a timestamp on it. A purpose is a state; a vision is a destination.

EMPOWERMENT Does the purpose stir something in people? How does it resonate with what is authentic and in line with the organisation’s DNA? A strong purpose helps people and organisations thrive and bring out their best selves. It should act as a north star of a journey, guiding smart business decisions, inspiring employees and partners as well as provide direction when times get tough. IKEA is a fantastic example of a propose-led company where everything taps into their DNA revolving around straight-forward, innovative, creative and common-sense problem-solving. Taking an outside view, purpose-led companies attract a growing band of customers who prefer brands and business partners who drive an ambitious, transparent agenda they believe in and want to be a part of.

USABILITY Last, but not least, purpose needs to be made accessible and tangible for people to act on it. Actually, how an organisation brings alive the purpose statement through actions and tell the world about it is what makes it strong, not how the statement is worded. At Stora Enso, one of many impressive initiatives is their circular bioeconomy loop. With a clear goal to combat global warming and minimise waste, and it encompasses a broad range of concrete actions from collaborating with partners and customers on circular business models to innovating products that are designed for circularity.

To sum up, I believe it’s key to keep pushing for higher standards - for business, for employees and partners, for society and for the environment. Having said that, let’s keep in mind, purpose is a journey and a state of mind, not a project with an end date.

I invite you to join us to explore the purpose of your organisation and more in the Brand X journey.

 

The Brand X journey is a great opportunity to get a current state analysis of your business on your journey to create a competitive advantage and achieving commercial success. Through the Brand X programme, our team of independent experts will advise you both on quick fixes and long-term development. Then in early 2021, we gather with all participating companies to get inspiration for turning strategy and purpose into action. We define a concrete marketing strategy that aligns your commercial actions towards success, and yes, in a way which helps you in practice communicate the value of your services with a heart to your customers, to support them in achieving their goals. Be mission-critical and join our purposeful Brand X journey.

 

About the author

Malin Groop comes with a certain passion, to help Nordic companies grow with a purpose. Working as an executive advisor and facilitator, she leverages tools from strategy, innovation and design, helping leaders, investors and their teams build sustainable, competitive paths forward. Malin has an extensive international background and has worked in-depth across three continents with several leading players in FMCG, lifestyle, travel, telco and professional services. 

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