Is a sense of corporate and personal purpose the future for business?
What drives us to be creative? This is a question I have been exploring whilst researching my new book about creativity in business. Whilst being creative in our personal lives may be something that comes easily, finding your creative mojo at work can sometimes be harder. I personally jumped off the corporate merry go round as I felt unfulfilled and lacking purpose. As motivation expert Dan Pink writes:
“humans, by their nature, seek purpose – a cause greater and more enduring than themselves”. And what better way to find meaning than by helping to make the world a better place?
Over the past few years, the idea that companies can have a positive impact on society, and can deliver this alongside making profit, has become increasingly accepted by the corporate world.
This is good news for motivating employees as well as for shareholders. In particular, research consistently shows that those dubbed millennials care more about social values than previous generations.
The Deloitte Millennial Study, 2016 found that nine in ten millennials believe that the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just financial performance and that they “would prioritize the sense of purpose around people rather than growth or profit maximization.”
It is no longer enough to just sell great products, but in an oversaturated marketplace, having a positive social impact can be a good point of differentiation. A relationship that is based around shared values is deeper and can create more loyal customers. It can also attract more motivated employees. Good business makes good sense.
Jim Stengel, the former chief marketing officer at Procter & Gamble and author of Grow, conducted a ten-year study looking at the performance of 50,000 brands. He found that brands that put the purpose of improving people’s lives at their heart created stronger connections with consumers and financially outperformed their rivals. An investment in “The Stengel 50” – the companies he identified as being the fastest growing brands with ideals at their core – would have been 400 times more profitable between 2001 – 2011, than an investment in the broader S&P Index.
A question of trust
Earlier this year, PR agency Edelman published its Trust Barometer 2016 which found that 80% of those surveyed (33,000 people in 28 countries) expect businesses can take actions to both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in their communities.
It also found that if a business or leader actively engaged in addressing social issues, an employee’s motivation to perform, stay at the company and recommend it to others increased.
A brand’s values and purpose are becoming an increasingly important factor in whether a consumer joins your workforce or buys your product.
Companies like Tom’s and Patagonia understand this. For every pair of Tom’s shoes sold, the company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need. Meanwhile outdoor company Patagonia famously encouraged its customers not to buy its clothes if they did not need them. On Black Friday in 2011, the company ran an in the New York Times, which stated: “Don’t buy this jacket” and explained the environmental impact of manufacturing its products.
Social good and creativity
So what does this mean for our creativity? Helping to create a better world can be a great motivator, and can help inspire people to do their best work if they feel they are contributing to something worthwhile.
Digital campaigns that cleaned up at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this year continued this trend of marketing with heart. One of my favourite campaigns was clothing brand REI’s #optoutside – closing its stores on Black Friday and suggesting customers get outdoors, which had the brand’s purpose front and centre with a powerful call to action.
So how can you put this into practice for yourself, your brand or your clients?
- First, take some time to think about what really matters to you. What issues get you fired up? What do you love to do? Where do you think you can make a difference?
- Also assess your company’s purpose. What does it exist for? How can you help make the world a better place? This doesn’t have to be disconnected from your core business, far better where there’s an authentic connection like the REI work.
- Look at what you and your company do in practice. Where are the gaps? What can you do differently – or start doing – to help advance your personal or company purpose?
The world of work is changing. Making money and offering benefit to others are not mutually exclusive. If you’re considering how to motivate yourself and your workforce exploring purpose is a good place to start.