Amid today’s multifaceted challenges, be it economic turbulence, supply chain disruption, or the barrage of social media, managing to stay afloat can consume a leader’s day. Yet, the narrative among decision makers transcends mere survival; they want to make an impact.
The quest for purpose isn’t novel, but in today’s digital whirlwind, it morphs into a complex endeavor. The world has been profit-driven for a long time, and now it’s entering a new era. Consumers are demanding to see purpose-driven brands. In an attempt to attract and retain audiences, companies are “competing on social purpose.”
In this arena, many business leaders are on a journey to find purpose. Some have amplified their philanthropic initiatives, while others have committed to sustainability. As of November 2023, nearly 8,000 organizations have enlisted as B Corporations, an emblem of their dedication to fostering social and environmental impact.
However, a multitude of founders are hesitant to hastily define their purpose. They aim to move beyond shallow support for causes or weak gestures toward sustainability. The ambition is to manifest a profound impact aligned with their organizational ethos, but it’s a journey made difficult by external pressures for an immediate resolution.
How can leaders find their purpose?
Amid all the noise, organizational leaders and decision makers need ways to pinpoint their purpose with clarity and confidence. It’s only by identifying a true, genuine purpose that teams can embody that purpose through smaller, daily actions.
1. Incorporate mindful leadership and inclusive hiring.
Purpose should not conflict with profit; instead, they can complement each other. Say an organization’s mission is to create a better world. Even if it’s focused on improving the lives of a specific group within a small domain, the same foundational principles can guide the company in discovering its social and environmental objectives.
Myong Lee, founder and CEO of Clever Care, a healthcare company dedicated to helping underserved populations, believes that financial and social returns are not mutually exclusive. “When you’re building any mission-driven organization like ours, it is paramount to set a culture with principles that are consistent with that mission, and any culture you build is going to be set by the people you hire,” says Lee.
Purpose flows from leadership to employees and from employees to the end user. This is why Lee sees his company as a family business; he advises his employees to “treat our members as you would your own family.” To do so requires a high level of detail, care, and relatability.
For example, Clever Care prioritizes hiring individuals whose cultural backgrounds align with those of the company’s target audience. By employing staff who share experiences with and speak the same languages as the end users, Clever Care aims to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for customers.
2. Create a community, not a product.
Many ideas conducive to business growth also align with building purpose and making an impact. For instance, framing a brand as a community rather than merely a series of products can foster a sense of belonging among audience members. This, in turn, encourages customers to stay longer, spend more, and engage more.
“Community-led product development pertains to the go-to-market strategy that focuses on the community of consumers who support the product and the company that produces it as a tool for customer acquisition,” writes Naimeesha Murthy, founder of Products by Women. “It relies on the community’s inputs for the growth of the product and the company. It gives value on relationship-building with the consumers and aims for brand loyalty and, ultimately, increased revenue.”
Leaders can approach the quest for purpose as a search for the glue that binds their community. What do the people a company serves need to feel united as a community? What common cause or concern do they share? What change do they, and by extension, the company, wish to see in the world? Leaders should center purposeful actions around this catalyst for change and take their communities along on the journey.
3. Let purpose drive innovation.
Innovation and agility are often hallmarks of tech entrepreneurs, typically employed in the context of generating revenue during periods of rapid growth. However, agility can also be viewed as a companion to purpose.
Once leaders engage with their communities and make purpose-driven decisions to better serve their members, they can ignite innovations and adapt their business models in tactical, mission-oriented ways. For instance, if a community’s objective is to support busy, working parents in managing their mental health, a leader might explore various tools to help employees enjoy more personal time.
Innovation also entails adapting when current approaches aren’t effective and maintaining flexibility to discover new ideas. If leaders observe that their communities favor one type of service over another, they can employ an innovative mindset to pivot toward their preference. This prevents companies from falling behind.
Leaders can use these three tips to determine their organizations’ purposes. But don’t stop at the identification step; continue to invest in initiatives to further the overall impact.