Imagine being the CEO of a major international company. These CEOs are enmeshed in complexity, under extreme pressure to simplify business and change everything – their mindset, as well as their company’s business model and processes. With “business transformation” and “digital disruption” looming over them, they are continually challenged to figure out what will make or break their company’s success in this evolving digital economy.
As if it weren’t enough for them to change what they do and how they do it – at rapid-fire speed – they are also now compelled to take a hard look at why they are doing all this. Enter a higher purpose.
A higher purpose meets mainstream business
If you’re thinking that “purpose” in business is about touchy-feely, “Oprah meets Deepak Chopra” spiritual stuff, think again (although let’s face it, they are both brilliant business moguls!).
The “purpose” I’m referring to is akin to a curious child who incessantly asks “Why? Why? Why?” Somewhere along the way, we adults have stopped being curious and stopped asking “Why” as we run ourselves ragged on the treadmill of life. We’ve become disengaged, uninspired, and have sold our souls to achieve short-term gains. In a sense, we’ve lost our purpose – especially at work.
However, people are now craving something more meaningful. It’s not just millennials, it’s all of us! As an employee of a large, multinational technology company, I want to feel like I am somehow making a positive impact and contributing to a higher purpose in my work. It’s what drives and inspires me. In speaking with colleagues around the world, I’m realizing they feel the same way. We want our company to drive impact on global causes touching billions of people. We feel it’s our duty to help people prosper in the digital economy.
The business case for purpose
Over the past few years, purpose in business has made its way into boardrooms of large and small companies alike. It’s also become a hot topic at global conferences such as the World Economic Forum in Davos and in thought-leadership studies.
Research from Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the EY Beacon Institute points out just how important why and purpose are, in business. This study found that answering why an organization exists, and then transforming through its purpose, is the key to success in business in the 21st century. The research shows that companies that aspire to more than just short-term gains and the pursuit of profit have a clear advantage over their competition.
I’m noticing a massive shift where companies – of all sizes, across all industries – are contributing to a higher purpose. They know they must find their why in order to be successful.
I believe that one of the reasons purpose is getting all this attention is that there is mounting evidence showing the powerful impact it has on business. In the HBR research mentioned above, close to 500 business executives were nearly unanimous on the value of purpose in driving performance.
A survey from Deloitte focuses on the culture of purpose and its impact. Organizations with a strong sense of purpose were found to be more confident in growth (82% versus 48%) and more optimistic about their ability to stay ahead of industry disruption (83% versus 42%). In addition, companies with purpose were found to be more optimistic about being able to outperform the competition (79% versus 47%).
These results are staggering. They should not be taken lightly. Clearly, companies that prioritize purpose experience more growth than those that don’t. It’s that simple.
Smart executives lead with purpose
Business leaders all over the world are grasping the power of purpose to transform their organizations. Here are just a few examples that inspire me.
“A culture of purpose has to start from the top, but it also has to permeate throughout the entire organization.”
Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO, EY
“An organization’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who we are and why we exist through a set of carefully articulated core beliefs. A culture of purpose guides behavior, influences strategy, transcends leaders – and endures.”
Punit Renjen, Global CEO, Deloitte
I know we all have our jobs, but that has to come from a deeper sense of purpose. You have to be driven by something. Leadership is not just about giving energy; it’s about unleashing other people’s energy which comes from buying into that sense of purpose.”
Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever
“Do not split the discussion between business and purpose. Look at where business and societal interests intersect, and use your purpose to address those head-on.”
Laurent Freixe, Executive Vice President, Head of Zone Americas, Nestlé S.A.
Creating a better world, improving lives
SAP has been cultivating its vision and purpose of helping the world run better and improving peoples’ lives for several years now. No one encapsulates this better than our CEO.
“SAP’s vision is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. This is our enduring cause. Our higher purpose. It’s what we stand for. It’s why we do what we do. And it’s something I personally aspire to, every day. We help our customers re-imagine business and life to drive meaningful impact globally. By transforming the world of business, we’re able to accelerate progress on big causes touching billions of people.”
Bill McDermott, CEO, SAP
SAP is contributing to a higher purpose through the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which were ratified in September 2015. These goals aspire to end poverty, protect the planet, fight diseases, provide quality education, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. Companies like Unilever and others are aligning with these goals as well, to elevate their purpose.
This story was originally published in Digitalist Magazine, in the Improving Lives section. See here.