Purpose Will Make Your Business Resilient

A 5-step framework for putting purpose into practice.

Whether you are at the helm of a small- or medium-sized business whose direction is more easily shifted to a new heading, or lead a mega-corporation that requires extra heft and determination, one thing is clear: you, the CEO, need to chart the new direction toward purpose.

The narrow torpedoes-be-damned attitude is no longer suited to our changing world. In place of a blunt show of strength, the successful leaders of corporate America need to show a more dynamic skill—the ability to lead with purpose and adapt. The times demand flexibility and the agility to evolve. They require the willingness to shift course as circumstances demand, and the determination to orchestrate collective action to transform our planet and care for our people.

For most of us, this means we have to accelerate our individual and collective commitment to purpose at a much faster rate than the threats to the environment and society. Only then can we start to reverse the institutional and possibly cataclysmic damage to our planet and its population. At the very center of this discussion is our ability to adapt, embracing purpose values, practices and principles. Only by committing to an embrace of social good and planetary health can we move into the future with confidence and hope.

ADAPT is a framework that promises to help put purpose into practice. While the novice might want to think in steps, the framework is non-linear and requires ongoing optimization and focus.

PART 1: ASSESS

Determine where you stand as the cultural ground shifts with generational influence, political noise and cataclysmic threats. Understand that corporate strategy—and success—is inexorably tied to these tectonic changes.

Actions:

• Pivot to purpose

• Research your market and employee values; determine what aligns with your purpose

• Act with a sense of urgency

• Remain open to the unexpected

• Commit to re-engineering your company’s DNA

PART 2: DEFINE

Evaluate your commitment to embracing purpose. Fully define purpose, including your strategy, its impact and its value to employees. Be prepared to pivot with a granular attention to operational detail — and get set to withstand the winds of change.

Actions:

• Create your purpose statement: adjust your vision, mission and values insupportable of it

• Utilize the purpose positioning framework to achieve horizontal and vertical integration of purpose—both within the company and outside of it

• Shift your mindset from merely aspirational goals to impact

• Prepare for execution, using the rollout checklist guideline

PART 3: AMPLIFY

Ignite purpose in your organization by dedicating teams to execution. There are important steps toward engaging employees, creating internal and external alignment, targeting audiences and bridging the cultural value divide.

Actions: 

• Align Stakeholders

• Prioritize employee alignment and adoption

• Launch purpose internally first, and keep it fresh and vibrant

• Develop a comprehensive and integrated communications plan and use it consistently and continually

• Be prepared for pushback and course correction

PART 4: PERFORM

Measure and track everything. Take advantage of evolving ESG frameworks and measures. Adopt frameworks that are material to your purpose and stakeholders. Make it the primary and material authoritative source for related non-financial measures. As the anchor report, it will trigger a reporting ecosystem that is both aligned and purpose-focused—validating progress and going well beyond any ESG score. This approach unifies disparate initiatives and drives transformation at scale.

Actions:

• Determine what you can measure and what is material in your industry

• Utilize purpose to define, align and integrate your chosen framework, and define what is material to your business

• Embrace ESG’s power to standardize KPIs and measure purpose— make it more than an investment strategy

• Continue to report financial measures, but supplement with non-financial ones

• Improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion performance

• Innovate and re-innovate to grow performance

PART 5: TRANSCEND

Experience the power of a purpose-led culture, embrace community in its broadest sense, establish strong oversight and stay true to your purpose. With that new identity comes the flexibility to survive crises and the promise of flourishing as the world changes.

Actions:

• Culturize with purpose

• Lead every day and in every way; remain vocal

• Shift to action and impact: do it broadly, make it feel local

• Extend your definition of community to include stakeholders — they represent both an opportunity and a priority

• Use governance to set purpose-based planning, policy, controls and action

• Remain open to the unexpected; there will be more COVID-19s

• Stay true to your purpose as it evolves and deepens with new layers of meaning

CEOs want their companies to teach others how to lead with purpose. Silence is no longer an option. Leaders and social scientists and politicians, from here and around the globe, have stressed the urgency of taking action–Satya Nardella, Jamie Dimon, John Donahoe, Mark Hoplamazian, Antonio Neri, John Griffin and more. Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, continues to act and educate. He and co-author Andrew Winston released a seminal book Net Positive, where they lay out in gripping fashion that, to thrive today and tomorrow, companies must become “net positive” — they need to give more to the world than they take. They detail the “order of battle” that begins with a “multistakeholder model [Unilever]” and then takes a business through partnership with competitors, civil society and government to effect transformative change.

More than anything else, we want businesses to know: This is your time and this needs to be your mission. Everyone needs to share it—from the rookie-hire to the C-Suite executive, to each partner and policymaker you influence.

It is within the power of CEOs to bring a new stature and renown to their businesses. It is within their control to change the world. There is little that cannot be accomplished when the right path is taken.

Excerpted with permission from ADAPT: Scaling Purpose in a Divisive World by Diane Primo (Weeva, 2022). 

Diane Primo is the CEO of Purpose Brand Agency, an award-winning, Chicago-based public relations, branding and digital marketing firm. She is the only African American female CEO of a purpose-driven communications agency. Diane’s focus on impact marketing stems from the belief that brands must be relevant, purpose-driven and committed to consumers to be successful today. Consumers’ demand for meaning, transparency and authenticity has changed the nature and raised the stakes in all communications.