How to define an engaging Corporate Purpose

Stéphanie Grawehr February 09, 2021

In this post:

What is a Corporate Purpose? How does Corporate Purpose align with Employee Purpose? How do you define your Corporate Purpose? How do you activate Corporate Purpose and engage employees in it? Wrapping it all up

There are many moving parts to building a Corporate Purpose that’s as authentic as it is realistic—and one that resonates with everybody. Not to worry. We’re here to walk you
through it all, step by step.

By the end of this post, you’ll have a clear idea of how you can start to build a company Purpose that takes your business, and the world, from strength to strength. Plus, we’ve gathered a handful of industry experts to lend their knowledge along the way.

Defined your company’s purpose and ready to implement it with employees?

Take a look at our guide for creating a best-in-class Employee Purpose program for the new normal. Learn more.

What is a Corporate Purpose?

Purpose means different things to different people. Often, it’s about social purpose, meaning what your organisation contributes to society. Here’s what it means for us, and our fellow industry experts.

A Corporate Purpose is a company’s very core reason for being. It’s how a company delivers its core business objectives, there are no gaps between what it does for the planet, its people, and society. It’s the positive impact or change they plan to make in the world.

How does Corporate Purpose align with Employee Purpose?

Corporate Purpose comes hand-in-hand with Employee Purpose. One does not function without the other. For a Company’s Purpose to ring true, it needs to be lived and backed up by employees.

Employees need to live their own Purpose and values. They’re looking to employers to fulfil that need. It’s the company’s responsibility to find that connection between Corporate Purpose and employee’s values. In short, a Corporate Purpose feels like a collective echo of its peoples’ Purposes.

How do you define your Corporate Purpose?

“People want to work for a company that shares their values—not just in words but in actions. People need to feel they have the opportunity to live their own values in their every day.”Isabel Kelly, Profit with Purpose

A strong Corporate Purpose will attract and retain purpose-driven talent that genuinely works toward that common goal. In a world that’s competing for top talent, your Company Purpose can be a strong differentiator from your competition when it comes to talent acquisition.

With the support of Isabel Kelly of Profit with Purpose, we’ve broken this down into five steps:

1. Define the Why

Consider your business’s founding story. Why was it founded and on what principles? Revisit the very beginning of what your company was. Maybe you’re going back a few months, maybe we’re talking decades, but try to dig down into why it all started.

Let’s take a look at some examples…

Let’s take a look at Nike. Their brand mission is:

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete.”

It’s a great mission for a sports brand and a constant reminder of why Nike started. But, what we love is how it’s helped to shape their brand purpose. Nike has taken their keywords: inspiration and innovation and considered how they can spark these two things among athletes while lining them up with some of the UN’s 17 SDGs. It’s resulted in a Purpose statement to be proud of:

“To unite the world through sport to help create a healthy planet, active communities and an equal playing field for all.“

Nike’s Corporate Purpose is core to their business
Image Source: Nike

Today, this Purpose statement has not only led Nike to be an industry giant, but becoming one by building diverse and inclusive teams, supporting local communities, and developing products responsibly and sustainably.

Another example is PwC Switzerland. Jasmin Khalifa talked us through the company’s pathway to Purpose and how it was built off the back of the company’s reason for being. PwC’s Purpose is:

“To build trust in society and solve important problems.”

PwC’s example shows just how important it is to tie Purpose with your core business activities:

“One of the big challenges in sustainability is non-financial reporting. As one of the big four accounting firms, PwC recently worked with the WEF, the accounting profession and 120 leading companies in the International Business Council (IBC) to identify a global set of metrics based on existing standards. That’s for us one way to bring our purpose to life.” – Jasmin Khalifa, Head of Corporate Responsibility, PwC Switzerland

Their Purpose also helps define their values and lines up with their services and code of conduct.

PwC’s Corporate Purpose helped define their values
Image Source: PwC

2. Align with causes

Once you’ve got why your business started in black and white lay it alongside the world’s greatest social and environmental issues are. These are perfectly laid out for you in the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Once you’ve identified a goal or goals that make the most sense for your business’s reason for being and product, try to unite them in what your brand stands for and your brand tagline.

In doing so, you’ll create a Purpose vision that encompasses:

  • What you do as a business
  • How you’re going to address your SDGs via business objectives
  • How you’re going to address your SDGs beyond profit
Align your corporate purpose with the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Image Source

3. Make a Purpose statement

Once you have your Purpose vision it’s time to hit the chalkboard and start ideating a catchy, pithy statement that’s as short as it is sweet. You’re going to be implementing this Purpose company-wide, so it needs to be equal parts learnable, as it is memorable.

It’s worth mentioning that you need to keep how you’re going to communicate your Purpose in mind at this stage. It needs to concretely link to your business and product vision while resonating with the business’s everyday actions.

Here are some of our favourites:

Canon: Imaging to change our world.
Apple: To empower creative exploration and self-expression
PwC: To create trust in society, and solve important problems.
REI: To awaken a life-long love of the outdoors.

4. Align with your people

When it comes to implementing your Corporate Purpose, there are a lot of stakeholders you’ll need onboard. Employees, customers, leadership, investors, press, everyone needs to understand your Purpose, as well as the whys and hows driving it.

Jasmin Khalifa, Head of Corporate Responsibility, PwC Switzerland, says it comes down to 3 key factors:

4.1 Long-term perspective

“Like a tree, a strong Purpose needs time to grow. You cannot start talking about Purpose today and expect it to bear fruit tomorrow.” – Jasmin Khalifa, Head of Corporate Responsibility, PwC Switzerland

Ensure that you install a long-term perspective into every stakeholder. It’s important they don’t expect immediate results from your actions. The results will come in time.

4.2 Communication

Find clear and concise ways to explain the corporate Purpose and reasoning behind it. Use communication channels that already exist within your organisation to your advantage.

4.3 Finding the link

Find clear and concise ways to explain the Corporate Purpose and reasoning behind it. Use communication channels that already exist within your organisation to your advantage. Find links in what they do every day.

5. Implement and report on it

Any Corporate Purpose needs to have some clear goals and metrics so that, as a business, you can ensure you’re making progress. Today, the audience you need to report to has changed.

Every business has a broad number of internal and external stakeholders to report to, as well as reporting against different frameworks, like SDGs or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, for example.

It’s no longer just reporting inputs. Which is how many of something you did or how much you gave. While inputs form part of it, today it’s how those inputs show progress against your objectives and how that shows impact.

Look toward the nonprofit sector for some great examples of this type of reporting.

“It’s not just what you do, it’s what you’re doing with it. It’s your input for impact.” – Isabel Kelly, Profit with Purpose

McKinsey has also built a useful framework for embedding Purpose that delivers value, coined The Five P’s:

The 5Ps of Corporate Purpose from McKinsey
Image Source: McKinsey

How do you activate Corporate Purpose and engage employees in it?

“In the past 20 years, sustainability and CSR were seen as ‘another project.’ We’ve built a team that champions Purpose. This team continuously leads dialogue internally and creates changes in peer-to-peer attitudes towards Purpose.”Jonathan Normand, B Lab

Here we are. The final step. Tying it all together. And making it an authentic part of your company and culture. You’ve worked so hard on defining your Corporate Purpose, and you’ve also worked on understanding various employees’ Purposes.

It’s time to put it into a framework and roll it out to your employees.

At this stage, remember that we’re building new habits on genuine interests here. Change will be welcomed, yet will take a while to be adopted. That’s okay. Great things don’t happen overnight. But, through commitment and consistency, you’ll build a company with an authentic Purpose that’s lived, breathed, and echoed by every stakeholder; in their unique way.

When thinking about your program, remember to consider the initiatives you’d like to roll out, such as: 

  • Volunteering (online or physically) to develop their skills and give back
  • Monetary and goods donations for causes that matter to them
  • Taking care of their physical wellbeing and mental health
  • Trying new habits to be more sustainable to protect our planet or support a more inclusive society

Also consider how you want to implement it – will you need internal champions to promote the program? Will you use a digital tool to power your program? These questions and more are important to consider to implement an impactful program at your company.

Ready for the next step? Implement an Employee Purpose program

To live your Corporate Purpose, check out our guide on how to build an impactful Employee Purpose program. Learn more.

Wrapping it all up

Defining a Corporate Purpose is not something that happens overnight. At the same time, seeing results from implementing a Corporate Purpose takes time. That being said, there are quick wins and ways to engage employees when you take a structured, deliberate approach to it.

Remember you’re in it for the long-run, and any stakeholder involved needs to understand this for your Purpose program to be a success. Don’t worry, we’re right here with you.

By building businesses with Purpose, we lift the micro or macro communities around us and—together—address some of the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges.

Take your road to Purpose one step at a time, this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon—and we’re all in it together.

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