Putting purpose into practice

Post author image. Hannah Rowley
Hannah Rowley, Global Goals Campaign Manager, Business in the Community, on how to embed a purpose-driven approach across your business.

At Business in the Community (BITC) we have long advocated for businesses to take a purpose-driven approach and embedding this across the business. Applying this approach helps to define the impact your business wants to have on the world.

Getting purpose right in the first place is one thing – authentically embedding it is another, but that is where the true value lies. This is not an easy task. It requires leadership, resource and most importantly, time. It is also good to acknowledge that any efforts to embed purpose can quickly be undermined by bad practices or behaviours. Therefore, it is vital to have an awareness of your current standing as a responsible business. Where are you already doing great things? What areas do you know need improving? Where are your blind spots? Be transparent and recognise these as part of your journey.

Getting purpose right in the first place is one thing – authentically embedding it is another, but that is where the true value lies.

Hannah Rowley, Global Goals Campaign Manager, BITC

To embed purpose, you need to start from a strong base. A purpose itself must be clearly defined and relevant to the business. It must think beyond profit, benefitting the progression of wider society. It has to be relevant to the core business, with the power to drive the business model, as well as the commercial strategy.

Read a blog by Keith Weed CBE on The ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of establishing purpose

So, after you have put time into understanding your responsible business impacts and making sure your purpose is the right one, what do you do next? How do you bring it to life?

AT BITC, we use the nine hallmarks of a purpose driven business (available to BITC members only) to outline the different ways a purpose can be embedded within a business model. Here we focus on three which are an important place to start — making good stead on these hallmarks will help prepare a business to further embed its purpose.

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  • Authentic leadership

To truly embed purpose within an organisation and motivate and inspire employees to play their part, purpose must be framed by the very top leadership and communicated regularly. Without leadership backing, purpose will quickly drop down the list of priorities competing for attention.

A good example of this is at ENGIE who launched its Responsible Business Charter in 2018, which included a renewed purpose to ‘improve lives through a better working and living environment’. This purpose is owned and governed at Group CEO and UK CEO level and is aligned to its global corporate objectives. ENGIE is also held to account on its purpose by an independent scrutiny board who review progress on key metrics, which are then reported publicly in an annual report.

Learn about ENGIE’s Responsible Business Charter in BITC’s Responsible Business Tracker® Insights: Raising The Bar report

  • Leaders at all levels

A purpose without context and interpretation will be short-lived. Your business needs to empower employees to see themselves as part owners of the company purpose, understanding how their actions fit into the bigger picture. In turn employees are able to add their own energy and creativity to bring the purpose to life through their roles.

BT is a great example of an employer that has empowered its people to work together towards a shared purpose. In a 2020 internal survey, 81% of BT employees said they thought their work contributes to BT’s purpose. One way that the company promotes this is through the annual BT Challenge Cup, which encourages people to share ideas that could make a difference to the business and its communities. In 2020, more than 700 teams entered – made up of nearly 3,700 people from 30 countries.

  • Rewarding right behaviours

Tone from the top will not be enough if the overall culture of the company contradicts it. Therefore, employees at all levels should be encouraged and incentivised to make day-to-day decisions, particularly commercial ones, driven by the company’s purpose.

OVO is a collection of companies with a purpose ‘to power human progress with clean affordable energy for everyone’. Plan Zero is OVO’s response to the climate emergency and sets out how the company will start to transform its entire business in order to help drive progress toward zero carbon living. OVO is incorporating Plan Zero and the OVO values into every interaction with its people, including contracts, goals, values, training, and reward and recognition. Progress on carbon reduction targets is now part of performance evaluations and employees need to demonstrate how they live the OVO Values; in fact, their bonus depends on it.

How can BITC support with your corporate purpose?

Contact BITC to explore how our Advisory Services can help you to develop and implement a strategic purpose.

  • Business in the Community will be publishing a new Purpose Toolkit for its members in Spring 2021.

We can take you further on your responsible business journey

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