Purpose Activation

By Sara Appleyard Adams Senior Director, Communications and Marketing at CECP

Despite corporate purpose proliferating in importance, few companies are actively planning ways to bring its purpose journeys to life. According to CECP’s Giving in Numbers report, 90% of the C-Suite and 71% of middle management refer to corporate purpose in their communications. And reassuringly, 80% of high performing companies are successful at infusing purpose throughout their organizations. But only 1 out of 10 companies are backing up its corporate purpose with an activation plan.

Employees may know a corporate purpose statement by heart, but that does not mean a company is done. During CECP’s recent Reinventing Corporate Purpose Communications Accelerate Community, there was an “aha moment” during a discussion with one of our subject matter experts Simon Mainwaring, CEO of We First. He shared that companies are only scratching the surface with their purpose. We were telling companies to share their purpose broadly, so it was known. But were they celebrating it, daily? And truly weaving it into the business? Companies may be using communications and CSR to activate their purpose, but missing how to infuse it in product development, partnerships, strategy, HR, investor relations, innovation, and more.

Of course, companies are experts at planning and activation. Leveraging this expertise and instilling corporate purpose into the core business strategy is the only way to truly bring it to life.

Imagine giving your company an audit to determine if you were truly living your purpose—what would you find?

How do you activate your purpose with employees?

  • Recognize and celebrate employee efforts. Elevate their actions so they do it again.
  • Mobilize purpose by walking the talk; avoid a “lazy purpose” that is disingenuous.
  • Focus on leadership. Start at the top as a powerful permission slip.
  • Integrate purpose into culture. Make it obvious.
  • Define your purpose with clearly articulated goals.
  • Share progress. Identify the bottlenecks. Encouraging calling issues out to help fix them.

Do you educate, engage, and inspire consumers, industry, and the world with your purpose?

  • Let your purpose guide actions–go from just marketing to meaningful movement making, from advertising to advocacy, from calls to action to activism.
  • Show up consistently, invest in what you believe in, respond quickly, and speak to the moment.
  • Celebrate instead of being the center of attention. Bring people into the conversation for diverse perspectives, and encourage dialogue versus talking at them.

How do you measure it?

  • Develop targets, track KPIs at the highest levels, and report on progress. And another way to measure purpose can be done through five free-to-use scientifically validated questions, which CECP partnered with Gallup earlier this year to release. These questions rely on employee sentiment to track how a company is living its purpose. How do your people think your corporate purpose performing? You can assess this through the Gallup Sustainability 5 Index by asking:
    1. My organization makes a positive impact on people and the planet.
    2. My organization cares about my overall wellbeing.
    3. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
    4. At work, I am treated with respect.
    5. If I raised a concern about ethics and integrity, I am confident my employer would do what is right.

Asking these or similar questions often, and prove to your people that you are listening by acting on the findings.

Okay, so you may not think your company is doing all that it can do to live out its corporate purpose. Here’s what you can do today to activate your purpose:

  • Choose to make progress on what matters: As we face the challenges of the coming year, there will be many things your company will feel it needs to address. As you assess those issues, your corporate purpose and the needs of your stakeholders will guide you. Understand when and how to speak out on the issues that matter to you. Know the issues that make sense for you to commit to action. Make good on your role as a trusted source of information. And keep communicating about your journey and your progress.
  • Be employee centric: Empower employees to share company news and give them a voice. Ask their opinions. Meet workers’ and especially frontline workers’ pressing needs. Support managers to be heroes. Have “stay conversations”.
  • Refresh the employee value proposition: Workers today are not only motivated by a fair wage but also by training, childcare, pad-time-off, sick leave, a sense of purpose, growth opportunities, culture, recognition, flexibility, and more.
  • Be transformative. With the grand challenges that confront us, there is no other way to solve these issues than to build upon a strong corporate purpose. Be bold when it is necessary and humble when it is required. How will your company transform to do what’s necessary to survive and thrive?
  • Report on your progress: CSR reports (or ESG, Sustainability, DEI, Impact, etc.) are not only methods of transparency, these are also letters written to all the people whose lives your company has impacted. You are opening up about promises fulfilled and work left to be done. Your stakeholders are reading these reports and data charts to understand if they can trust your company—to invest, work with, live near, supply products and services, and more.

At a recent CEO Roundtable with Doug Conant, former CEO, Campbell Soup Company and founder, ConantLeadership, he shared with peer CEOs that corporate purpose will evolve; it is a living thing. He suggests managers—the pivotal people who can be purpose blockers or boosters—become those people who ask employees to help grow the corporate purpose. They can help identify what is and isn’t working across all business units and inspire solutions.

You are not alone on this purpose journey, but it’s up to you to determine what’s next and what your purpose narrative will be.

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