The importance of purpose…..

If you believe all you read in the press, “trust in business is at an all-time low.”  The media is full of stories about companies mistreating staff, suppliers, customers and shareholders – trashing the environment, avoiding paying tax, and making their owners very rich. 

Yet “business” isn’t inherently bad -  business provides goods and services, it provides employment, it helps fund many other things that need funding (education, health, infrastructure), it produces technical innovations that further human progress, it pushes boundaries – innovates, invents and creates, it allows people to achieve together what they would find difficult to achieve alone….

These are all great reasons for business to exist.  Yet all too often the purpose of business is reduced shareholder value, and its main criteria of success are profits generated and a healthy share price.

This is a short sighted view.  Yes, business needs to turn a profit to survive and develop but making money should not be an end it itself – the sole purpose.  Truly successful companies make a profit in order to enable them to do something more or better. What that ‘something’ is becomes the real justification for the existence of the business.

Business is arguably the dominant shaping influence on the planet today, and more and more organisations are looking at purpose beyond profit and how they can deliver market based solutions to social and environmental problems.  This goes deeper than CSR, sustainability or business ethics – it goes to the heart of an organisation and influences strategy, recruitment, development, communications, marketing, operations, production – in fact all areas of a business.   

Purpose driven organisations are nothing new.  John Cadbury established the famous chocolate company in the 1820s with the aim of providing an alternative to alcohol (which he believed kept the masses mired in poverty).  John Lewis has always had "happiness of our staff…and good service to the general community” as its core purpose.  Now organisations in all sectors are recognising the worth of having a clearly articulated purpose which acts as the reference point to guide how they operate.  Growing numbers of organisations start with a purpose at their core and build from there – creating sustainable, outward looking businesses that do well by doing good.