Purpose Precedes Clarity; Clarity Precedes Success

By Haysam Azhar, Student- Strategic Finance and Economics and Society, Minerva Schools - KGI

Following my experiences of Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019, I explore the link between purpose, clarity, and success, and share learnings about how companies around the world can embed purpose authentically.

Following my experiences of Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019, I explore the link between purpose, clarity, and success, and share learnings about how companies around the world can embed purpose authentically.

In my opinion, Business Fights Poverty 2019 was an event of paramount importance to the world of business. This year, BFP put forth the following questions: is purpose a scam or does it really help organizations move forward and be more effective at what they do? How can we embed purpose authentically into organizations?

As businesses continue to respond to consumers demanding a greater accounting of social cost in their operations and contribution to the benefit of society, we are seeing more investment than ever in social impact initiatives by big companies such as Visa, GSK, Unilever and Patagonia. However, without these investments being directed the right way, there can be negative consequences or a lack of sustainability of the solutions being implemented. This is often cited as a big concern with philanthropy: the lack of longevity of the intervention creates a culture of dependency for beneficiaries, populations which can actually harm these communities in the long run.

Interning with a climate finance consultancy in London, I have come to appreciate the importance of being part of a team that has a shared purpose as well as a common goal. For us, that common goal is to accelerating the pace of implementation and the effectiveness of climate change projects worldwide. The shared purpose is to protect the local and global environment. In my mind, the latter (re: shared purpose) makes all the difference. This is because purpose precedes clarity. When you have a clear sense of purpose, your goals become more obvious. As the Regional Europe Lead for Social Impact from Visa, Dana Haidan, put it: “it is important to know what we are and what we are not and purpose helps us define those boundaries which makes us more effective at what we do”.

Robin Sharma, a world renowned executive coach, says if you have clarity as to where you are going (goal state), and where are you starting from (initial state), success will knock on your door. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that clarity precdes success.

Following are 4 key-takeaways from Purpose Zone morning session that elaborate on this link between purpose, clarity, and success and how companies can embed purpose authentically:

  1. Shared purpose ≠ Common goal: A goal is what is desired. Purpose is a reason for being. If businesses have a shared purpose across the board, there would be less friction within teams. This is because even though an employee’s idea for how to do ‘A’ didn’t make it through, they would find comfort in the fact that they share the same purpose with their colleagues. This means having a shared purpose introduces a kind of flexibility in an organization where every process is iterative. For example: Apple’s Steve Jobs famously described the purpose of his company saying, “we’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”. They certainly have and they just happen to make computers. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that a product is never an end. It is always a means to an end. Steve Jobs shouldn’t be credited with building a groundbreaking Apple product. Rather, he should be credited with building a groundbreaking company.
  2. If you can’t measure it – you can’t prove it: Setting measurable KPIs and OKRs help employees understand the kind of impact they are having which can be a strong motivator in and of itself. From the customers’ point of view, it helps them distinguish between traditional firms and those that are committed to a broader set of stakeholder values. For example, Co-op in the UK donates 1% of all their revenue to charitable causes – £19 million across the UK in 2017.
  3. Have a business strategy that clearly says why you are uniquely positioned to make that impact: The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule), states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. If organizations have clarity on what kind of impact they can make, they can achieve 80% results with 20% effort. For example: Through their Digital Aid program, Visa distributed prepaid Visa debit cards during a disaster relief campaign as a means to help the local communities. To their surprise, 50% of people kept using their cards when the campaign was over which was an unintended consequence and led to the realization that Visa can do much more than provide money.
  4. Give your employees agency: Will Gardner, an independant B.Corp consultant, said every employee has an inner fire burning inside of them akin to a lantern and each of these inner fires is about somebody who is able to come to work feeling a strong sense of purpose so they give their best. Making your employees agents in the decision-making process is likely to boost their intrinsic motivation. This would likely lead to employees feeling not just more valued, but also more valuable. KPMG appreciates this and launched the 10,000 Stories Challenge. They asked  27,000 partners and employees in June to develop posters, as individuals or teams and elaborate on how their role connects to the larger purpose of the organization. They offered an incentive of two extra paid days off at the end of the year if they met the 10,000 stories target by Thanksgiving. By Thanksgiving, they had received 42,000 stories and 90% of their partners reported that the higher purpose initiatives increased people’s pride in KPMG.

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