If there’s something we could all do with right now, it’s a bit of hope for the future. We may currently be living at the whim of a microscopic virus, but there are plenty of things that are within our control.
Just ask David Attenborough.
For example, I’ve been thinking about why I wanted to start my business. I’ve spent years helping organisations to communicate more effectively, but surely my impact, given the current state of the world, needs to go further than that?
As businesses, I believe we have a responsibility over and above making money. We create experiences; whether we sell a product, provide a service, or have a longer-term relationship with customers, we inevitably shape the way people experience the world. Everything we do makes an impact on society and ultimately on the future of our planet.
So rather than simply list what skills I have to offer, I’m thinking about what material difference I will make to people’s businesses and, as a result, to wider society. I’m thinking about my purpose.
(Eurgh! There I said it. The p-word. It sounds like something a management consultant might say, and for that I apologise. But I have the best intentions, I promise.)
I concluded that I’m not simply helping people with their communications. I’m helping business owners and leaders to find their own position of strength and certainty, to help them navigate these incredibly challenging times and emerge stronger and more sure of themselves at the end of it.
Why should you, as a business leader, care about this?
Well, everyone wants a fair deal. Consumers want to buy from brands that they have faith in; the ones that will put a fair price on a product, treat us with dignity and respect, and help us out when things go wrong. The ones that give us faith in humanity.
Companies can no longer pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. What’s internal is external and what you value is obvious to all.The rise of social media and the ‘woke’ expectations of Millennials and Generation X mean that we need to act in the right way for the right reasons all the time, whether seen or not.
I’ve worked in organisations that do this well and I can honestly say that it makes a marked difference to customers, to employees, and to the long-term viability of the company.
What I’d like to invite you to do – even though your world might feel like it’s spiralling out of control at the moment – is consider what hope you’re trying to create with your business. Why should people believe in you and your offer?
Here are some thoughts to guide you:
- You don’t need to go on a detox yogi retreat or Himalayan trek to find your purpose. Often it’s a case of pausing to take stock of what you already do and what you value; perhaps remembering why you started out in the first place, or by being mindful of what you and your business do every day. It can be rewarding and confidence boosting. And you can involve your colleagues, friends and family in the process.
- Newsflash #1: You already have a purpose, whether you think that’s true or not. I once worked with a small business who initially told me that their purpose was “to make money”, and then revealed how they put their customer’s happiness and needs before anything else. The value you create is intrinsic – just because you don’t have a big marketing department to tell you how unique your proposition is, it doesn’t mean you don’t have one.
- Newsflash #2: Your employees don’t just work for the money. Some may say they do, but I’ve known the most hardened, supposedly money-motivated individuals to be inspired by the ‘fluffy stuff’ – the stories, moments or events that remind us why we do what we do. It’s always worth it. At the end of the day we’re all human and we have a need to be needed and valued. If we see that we’re part of something special, we feel good and we’re motivated to perform.
To be completely honest with you, being purpose driven isn’t an exact science. I mean that literally. Despite it being thoroughly researched and written about, it’s not a scientifically proven route to business success. But my question is: do we need it to be? Like global warming, opinions differ, but that doesn’t make our efforts to conserve our planet worthless.
Luke Hildyard, director of thinktank the High Pay Centre, acknowledges that the link between profitability and doing good has still not been properly resolved. However, given the many examples of companies successfully turning to ‘society first’ initiatives when the pandemic hit (think switching to hand sanitiser production, or offering free online fitness classes), Hildyard concludes: “Pursuit of profit isn’t the sole purpose. By targeting positive civic outcomes beyond financial returns, companies might end up achieving both – as well as creating a better world for us all.”
And let’s not forget the examples of companies losing sight of what they do well, like Pepsi with their attempt at a woke ad starring Kendall Jenner, which was a stark reminder for companies to “live their truth”.
So do something you’re proud of, that feels right and fits with your values. You may already be doing that, possibly without being conscious of it.
In doing so you’ll give everyone around you – your customers, staff, stakeholders and friends – a glimmer of hope and confidence that together we can create a better future that goes beyond the pandemic.
#purpose #beyondcovid #createhope