Of Profits and Purpose

When Conrad Hilton established a company purpose of, “World peace through international trade and travel,” it may have seemed like an absurd religious quest to some.  But, eventually, the London Hilton was the first structure to rise higher than St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Several years ago the debate raged between the so-called “feelers” and “thinkers” over the subject of company purpose. Today so much study has been done on the subject, there is little room left to argue. As author/researcher Jim Collins concludes, “True greatness comes in direct proportion to passionate pursuit of a purpose beyond money.”

In fact, even in the most critical decision making, such as personal healthcare choices, 70% of our decisions are driven by emotion (2013 Gallup poll, confirmed by 2014 SHMD study). Although closely tied to emotion, purpose drives beyond emotion to the analytical “why'” we do things.

Leadership Alignment on Purpose
Purpose can’t just be a well-scripted marketing ploy. Purpose has to be lived out in every facet of the company, starting with leadership. If your leadership is not aligned on the company’s purpose, all attempts at following that purpose will be actively crushed by your own colleagues. Purpose has to be lived out consistently by leadership, then it has to be measured and your team must be held accountable. For best results, share the authorship of your company’s purpose. Only then will you will share true ownership.

Team impact of Purpose
With as little as 30% of U.S. employees engaged on the job, companies need to start thinking more seriously about the affect their purpose has on their brand, both internally and externally. Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup once said, “Purpose makes employees feel like their job is important, that what they do matters, and is one of a handful of critical factors that we at Gallup have proven correlates with highly engaged, highly productive employees.”

Consumer Impact of Purpose
If your purpose statement is composed of empty marketing jargon that isn’t operationalized into increased value for the consumer, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. This is where many purpose exercises fail. An appropriate purpose is centered around measured behavior change that is focused on the consumer and what they care about. It helps solve the problems that they face. It must be remarkable. It should be shared with pride.

Social Impact of Purpose
Finally, if the impact of your purpose on society is not significant enough to be evident without you shouting it from the rooftops, than your purpose is probably not big enough. Don’t skimp out on your contribution to society – consumers will notice if you do. If your purpose involves giving to the needy, give enough to make a measurable difference; if it involves providing your customers with exceptional value, go the extra mile and provide such great value that your customers can’t help but shout it from the rooftops for you. Otherwise you risk loosing your customers’ trust. Improve the human condition with your purpose, or rethink your entire purpose.

1. Get your leadership team aligned by co-authoring your purpose statements,
2. Ensure that your company lives out its purpose by operationalizing it,
3. Make sure your customers understand and can relate to your company’s purpose,
4. Improve the human condition with your purpose.

Your Turn: Can you recite your company’s purpose? Does your company live and breath its purpose? If so, how is it doing this? If not, why not? Does that purpose generate value for the consumer; does it solve the problems that they face? If so, how?