The power of being purpose driven

The power of being purpose driven
Published: 3 December 2019

‘Rallying employees behind a core business purpose is a key component of the shared value business model’, was the takeaway from the keynote speakers of our round table dinner on purpose driven businesses. Judy Parfitt, Director of People at Vitality, and James Murray, Managing Director of Healthy Workplace, also part of Vitality, provided a balanced view on how to translate this into a commercial and people centric strategy.

Vitality was established with the core premise of improving the health of customers and, along the way, the team realised the benefits surpassed just physical wellbeing.  Workplace productivity has a direct correlation to physical and mental health, and James spoke to the audience about the findings from 2019’s Healthiest Workplace awards, which were launched in the FT the same week.

Shared value model

Judy explained how Vitality subscribes to the shared value model, a strategy which helps businesses find opportunities in social problems. In Vitality’s instance, its products and services positively impact health. Customers and employees are healthier, they are more engaged and productive at work and they achieve higher performance ratings (and bonuses). Customers pay lower premiums and because they are healthier, are less likely to make claims. Corporate clients benefit from lower levels of sickness/absenteeism within their own businesses and investors are happy that the company continues to be profitable. These profits can be reinvested and allocated to health-based initiatives which deliver real benefits to a wider section of society.  Essentially, everyone benefits from wellness.

James spoke about how purpose, productivity and profit go hand in hand, and everyone agreed generating profit is essential to uphold purpose. The other element in instilling purpose is communication. If you assume everyone knows the organisations purpose because of how long the organisation has been established, or how long people have worked there, you can inadvertently create a ‘purpose gap’. This means if you do not create meaning for employees, they will interpret it in their own way and ultimately this can lead to negative outcomes. By allowing a space for employees to create their own meaning, you can quickly find that new (poor) behaviours emerge, and time and resources can be invested in initiatives which are off-purpose.

Debbie Moss, Barnardo’s Chief of Staff, cited that charities are naturally purpose driven. Every single person can relate to the core purpose at Barnardo’s of believing in ‘the unique worth of the individual’. She explained that for Barnardo’s, this is interpreted in other ways such as embedding equality and diversity and inclusion. One cannot assume that just because people believe in the cause, they’ll understand the other components too. Everyone must be included, engaged and brought on the journey.

Embedding purpose

Collectively, the group agreed with Judy Parfitt who described that continuously communicating and embedding purpose in all stakeholder interactions is essential. Maria Humphries, Head of HR at William Hill, explained they had invested significant time in embedding purpose, and one of their successful initiatives was the election of ‘Standard Bearers’. This refers to a group of employees who champion the company’s purpose, upholding its values and behaviours regardless of time served, function or seniority. These individuals are committed to upholding the purpose of the organisation.

We uncovered that there is some truth to the assumption that younger employees want to work for businesses with a clear sense of purpose. Our guests described how employees are now acting like consumers and becoming increasingly demanding of the companies they work for. Employees expect greater transparency from leadership teams and have fewer qualms about calling out practices and behaviours they believe are not aligned to what they perceive the company or brand stands for. For many organisations who have been hierarchical and traditionally unchallenged, it can create an uncomfortable place for leadership teams. Investment in soft skills, such as emotional intelligence and storytelling, are commonplace. Mechanisms which allow employees to have a voice are increasing and leadership teams are demonstrating they are listening and acting.

Create clarity

Creating clarity for every employee is essential at every stage of their employment. Purpose and clarity support recruitment, development and retention of talent at every level. With guests sharing challenges they had experienced in instilling purpose, it became clear that authentic leadership, clarity and positive intent help to build trust. Ultimately, the discussion led back to two things; people and leadership.

For more information, please contact Kathryn Gallan,  a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice.

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