The Purpose of Corporate Purpose

When billionaire Laurence Fink sends a note to all of the CEOs in his money-management portfolio—a portfolio that has been estimated at 6.5 Trillion in assets—people take notice. The note stated, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.”

When you’re the CEO of BlackRock, you’re not sending out a note like this for press. Rather, you’re putting your CEOs on notice.

The tides of business have changed. The next generation votes with their dollars, have a big say, and literally wear their values on their sleeves. If you are making good in the world and serving the world, your business has a shot. If not? Bon Voyage, brand. No matter how important you think you are today, it’s all about how you serve a social purpose tomorrow.

Today, a company’s purpose is its authentic reason for existing. Finding that genuine, unique gift you can offer the world—whether you’re a being or a brand—is how you identify, declare, and live out your purpose. To pick a purpose is to make a choice. Declaring a purpose isn’t something for a company’s chief sustainability officer to handle as a side project. It isn’t manufactured by marketing. It should articulate not only how it’s bettering the lives of its customers but also how it’s bettering their worlds. What is your company or brand willing to commit to or sacrifice to make sure your purpose succeeds?

Your purpose should be inspired by, and start with, your core values and then come to life in your people, your offerings and future products. These are what my old colleague and author Simon Sinek has coined the “why” statement for companies. The more virtuous a company’s purpose is, the easier it is to commit to it. And, this doesn’t just apply to prospects or customers. You also have to give your employees a reason to stick around. A good purpose should be the reason people continue to work for you. It’s why your staff remains confident in your company.

Put a Rally Cry in Your Why

Today, the pathway to success is not just knowing your why. I believe you have to put a rally cry in your why. When you have a true rally cry in your why, you give your employees a true reason to believe. Ask yourself this question: Do you have a job, a career or a calling? The next generation is yearning for more. They aren’t simply motivated by the money. They seek purpose. The irony is the advocates you need first are the ones within your own walls. A rally cry in your why unites and ignites your internal Believers. It motivates internal staff as much as external prospects.

So, in order to go about uncovering, discovering, and creating one big “rally-cry-in-your-why” purpose, your brand:

1. Must Be Truthful
2. Must Be Purposeful
3. Must Be Emotional
4. Must Be Differential

Must Be Truthful

Contrary to popular belief, “the truth hurts” is a fallacy. In fact, the opposite is true. The truth helps. Often, it’s by delivering the truth, and nothing but the truth, to the public that makes you realize this. And, this truth can’t be just any truth, but instead a bit of uncovered, startling information that when shared with the public surprises them and makes them notice you. Bringing that uniquely genuine truth to the surface by unearthing something that we all feel but had yet to be articulated is what makes a great purpose.

When looking for your truthful purpose, don’t be afraid to start with whatever imperfections your brand may have. Embracing the truth, even when it might at first be a negative, can be flipped into a positive. A brand that accepts its freckles can become an approachable, endearing company that people rally behind. With a truthful purpose at the center of your message, consumers will see your marketing not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary good.

Must Be Purposeful

Captain Obvious walks into a bar and says, “Your purpose has to be purposeful!” I’m guilty as charged in stating the obvious. But, let’s dissect the B Corp movement to showcase just how important purpose is becoming across our globe. According to Patagonia Ex-CEO Rose Marcario, “The B Corp (Benefits Corporation) movement,” —a community of leaders and people using business as a force for good with more than 2,500 purpose-driven companies worldwide— “is one of the most important of our lifetime, built on the simple fact that business impacts and serves more than just shareholders. It has an equal responsibility to the community and to the planet.” B Corp leaders believe that business has a greater purpose than the bottom line, and aim to conquer the greed, power, deceit, constraint, evil, inaction and other “enemies” of responsible business.

The bigger the agreed-upon enemy is, the bigger the potential rallying movement against it will be. One swift way to focus your team is to show them the injustice of this chosen enemy. This higher purpose acts as more than a mere call to action. Rather, it’s a call for action. A call for action, not simply a call to action, is a critical component one needs as part of a successful purpose. A call for action gives your staff a meaningful reason to stick around and make good on the mission.

Must Be Emotional

You don’t have to be SpaceX to have a true, “human life on another planet” purpose. But you do need to put in the hard work to dial up the emotion. After spending over two decades helping brands like Subway, Johnson & Johnson, Major League Baseball and Caesars Entertainment tell their stories, one thing I know for sure is the importance of emotion. I always like to say “No feel, no deal.”

It’s a bit ironic, if you ask me, that Salesforce—the company that touts its powerful Artificial Intelligence technologies—is on record suggesting that 80% of all decisions are based on emotion, and only 20% of them are made on logic. This means that if there’s no emotion in your story 4 out 5 times, there’s no behavior change. Want a purpose that can galvanize your people? Dial up that emotion. Internally, that’s how you move people from a job or career to a calling. If Method soap can make soap cool (a commodity) with their purpose of, “We’re the People Against Dirty,” then it’s there for the taking inside any willing organization.

Must Be Differential

If you have landed on a truthful, unique, and emotional purpose, but someone else has already declared that reason for existing, you have to move on to another purpose. When choosing a purpose, being different is what will set you apart. As my talented friend Sally Hogshead likes to say, “Different is Better than Better.” And, I wholeheartedly agree.

Truthful + Emotional + Purposeful + Differential = Committed Purpose

When you add truth, purpose, emotion, and uniqueness together, you get a motivational purpose to which your company can commit. Companies that choose their purpose wisely are handsomely rewarded for doing so. Just look up the Stengel 50 if you wanted to study a company’s return for doing so.

At our special-forces reinvention consultancy Courageous, the “rally cry in our why” purpose is to help our clients liberate with courage. What we’ve noticed is that 95 percent of companies are stuck in preservation mode, while only 5 percent are in liberation mode. This leads to our call for action: to help our clients choose courage rather than end up in the abyss of business normalcy.

If you would like a step-by-step process on how to unlock courage, creativity and innovation inside your business, nab my book Return On Courage at Amazon. Or, reach out to me directly. I’ve been fortunate to share this framework with Google, Kellogg’s Europe, charity: water, Johnson & Johnson and many others. I’m happy to share more about the steps we take to transforming your business into a relevant, thriving Courage Brand®.

Ryan Berman is an author, keynote speaker and the founder of Courageous; a create-the-change company that builds and leads Courage Brands®. Ryan has helped install courage in the stories and culture at Google, Kellogg’s Europe, charity: water, Major League Baseball, Snapchat, Johnson & Johnson, Cereal Partners Worldwide and US Ski & Snowboard. His book ‘Return on Courage’ shows how during these courage deficient times, courage is a competitive advantage for those leaders who choose to unlock it. Berman also has his own altruistic Courage Brand called Sock Problems: a sock company that “socks” different problems in the world.

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