While most folks agree that "doing both purpose & profit" is the right thing to do- I still hear some refrains from some quarters: Who are these Purpose idealists? Why are they telling us to do purpose instead of business, ideals instead of innovation — and charity, instead of profits? Doesn’t it sound more and more like the mission/vision statements generated by Dilbert’s mission statement generator!
Although I see some merit in those refrains, they are valid only - when we define business success purely based on the quarter by quarter financial results. In other words, the purpose-profit debate is not about whether it will help the corporations to meet the next quarter’s numbers – rather, it is all about whether the corporations can sustain its momentum 3- 5 years from now? This is where we need to be re-structuring our frame of reference and asking different set of success questions for us to be sustainable in the long run.
Interestingly enough, more and more corporations are using KLD scores, corporate governance scores, and sustainability indexes to measure success apart from the traditional financial KPI’s. The reason for the shift in this thinking is that - this holistic way of looking at the success makes corporations’ investment more meaningful, less risky and above all more sustainable. With that thinking - I am proposing a new hypothesis that “True business Success is not just based on today’s success criteria, but also based on today’s and tomorrow success criteria”.
I hear some folks asking again – “Well… Mr. Purpose Idealist- this might sound good from PR standpoint – what data points do you have to substantiate your hypothesis? Do you want us to run a charity instead of a profitable business?” Definitely not! All that I am saying is – it is time for corporations to focus on at-least on one purpose strategy that is intertwined with your profit strategies - in the words of Rick Warren as outlined in his famous book - Purpose driven life - “If you want your life to have an impact, focus it! Stop dabbling. Stop trying to do it all. Do less. Prune away even good activities and do only that which matters most. Never confuse activity with productivity. You can be busy without a purpose, but what's the point?”
I guess the right answer is to prune and focus on those purpose activities that matters the most. In other words, select one key purpose objective in each of the three purpose dimensions – People (social), Planet (environment) and Passion (values) and do it with a high impact. This 3P (People, Planet and Passion) mindset not only helps us to create a sustainable business, but also will help us to honor the people we serve, nurture the environment we consume and uplift the values of the community we are part– and finally, above all, lay the foundational track for an all-inclusive purpose journey. With us living in a time of a global transformation, this type of a “3P mindset” producing tangible results will definitely help us to validate our purpose driven hypothesis in the long run as well. From pragmatic standpoint, here are few purpose objectives to consider -
- Energize the bottom of the pyramid with “social enterprise” minded product/service bundles they can afford. Project Shakti by Unilever is a great example (http://www.unilever.com/sustainability/casestudies/economic-development/creating-rural-entrepreneurs.aspx).
- Encourage healthy products and herbs from the region’s native plants and medicines and make it part and parcel of the products and services your firm sells.
- Encourage virtual green farming business models with state-of-the art green technologies.
- Empower indigenous cultures of the countries you serve via sustainable high yield agriculture farming methods.
- Educate agriculture innovators of the world with leading edge green focused training courses taught by world renowned purpose instructors.
- Elevate global understanding of critical externality based environmental issues (pollution, waste etc) with timely and functional innovative solutions. Please see some of my comments within the context of the recent externality debate within HBR (http://blogs.hbr.org/what-business-owes-the-world/2010/06/bp-the-gulf-and-the-great-exte.html).
- Encourage volunteering activities within your company - and make employees to visit at least one global country your firm is serving as part of their individual purpose objectives.
While I agree that these purpose strategies may not change the world tomorrow, it will however, help us to take the baby steps needed to create a better tomorrow. I am pounding this message over and over again - neither to score a point nor -for that matter -to call myself as a purpose evangelist – rather, I want the purpose focused corporations to succeed and outperform their peers in the larger interest of the society they serve — based on today's and tomorrow’s success criteria as outlined in our hypothesis. Well… enough of purpose preaching this week - where there is a will, there is a way. When time is on our side- let’s embrace it! Wish you all a happy July 4th weekend.