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People Management

How the world’s most successful companies bring purpose to life


To be motivated and successful one must be driven by something greater than just profits. But how do some of the world’s most recognized companies facilitate purpose and bring it to life?

The ideology that a company should be driven by something greater than just profits has a long history in business.

Talking about it, however, is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to make it more than just words. To bring purpose to life, it needs to be a central part of the company culture. It must represent ways to create enrichment and happiness in our work lives and to some extent also define our reason for being.

Hence, purpose most go beyond task. Being a porter at a large hospital this would redefine one’s work from transporting patients from one hallway to the other to something like improving the quality of each patient’s experience by creating better conditions for their healing. Working with gardening, the same could be exemplified with moving from the task-specific perception of one’s job as simply cutting the grass in the park to creating a pleasant place for people to relax and reflect.   

Purpose needs to embody big ambitions

While purpose based on metrics that define the company’s targets for growth, profitability or market share can be useful to create business focus, it will unlikely inspire many. It simply falls short of a compelling purpose.

Looking at the below graphics, illustrating purpose statements of some of the world’s most recognized companies, it is interesting to see how none of these statements are driven by hard metrics, but rather rely on how each of them can contribute to making the world a better place.

Considering the graphic above, the purpose statements of all companies mentioned embody big bold ambitions.

Conversely, a company can state that its purpose is to work for the universal good by allowing everyone to experience what few may have. Google, IKEA, Kingfisher, Tata and Uniqlo are only few of the companies working with universalization in their statements. Kingfisher and IKEA are driven by helping millions of people worldwide improve their homes, while TATA strives to get the underprivileged to enjoy what the privileged enjoy.

In its early incarnation, Google was not necessarily working towards becoming the world’s largest search engine. Their main purpose back then was to let people benefit from searching the web freely.

Another example can be drawn from companies working with innovation as part of their purpose. These companies want to go where no company has gone before. With their purpose, Samsung as an example strives to give you the freedom to take journeys; discover new experiences; to take charge of your world.  They fulfil this by being relentless in their pursuit of discovery and innovation, creating services and technologies that empower.

Other purpose statements include doing business in a responsible way or treating stakeholders and workforce with integrity and authenticity.

Purpose needs to be anchored in corporate culture

In order for purpose to be effective, it needs to be anchored in corporate culture. Companies such as Google, Apple and Starbucks are just few of the companies doing great job anchoring purpose throughout the whole corporate culture. And doing so is for a great reason. A strong corporate culture is the solution to the often occurring problem of incomplete contracts or imperfect incentives

Contracts for the matter of fact are always incomplete. At its core a company is a network of contracts with all of its stakeholders. No matter if these are owners, managers and workers. The company is responding rationally to incentives that produce organisational and wider benefits.

These incentives can account for price signals, hoped-for reward, fear of the costs of failure and so on.

Despite declaring a dedication to customer service in contracts, an individual worker may be tempted not to go the last mile and cheat on this commitment.

The other thing is that not everyone has the same interest in a good outcome. People in different positions may have different short-term advantages of not keeping their promises or simply disguising the truth of matters to their shareholders.

Through a strong corporate culture however, stakeholders are encouraged to internalise the behaviours firms want to create and sustain. Here purpose is the means to create such a corporate culture of integrity – indispensable to any business success.

Hence, the companies that ground their strategy with a view to promoting wider societal purpose have a compass for their strategy that competitors cannot readily emulate.

For it to be effective the purpose and the care must be genuine and reinforced throughout the whole network of interrelations.

Only this way, companies can build connections, opportunities and loyalties not available for others and ultimately create the best-in-class business case.

Learn more about, how to lead with purpose. Read our recent blog post: Traits of effective leadership? It’s driven by purpose or discover how we at ISS work with purpose through our Apple initiative in this blog post.

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