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Author's profile photo Julie Barrier

A Fitness Regime for Flexing the Purpose Muscle

Purpose matters. Take a look at this report: Fit for Purpose 2015. Authored by Radley Yeldar (RY) Limited, a creative consultancy in England, the report is the first ever of its kind. RY conducted extensive research to find the top 100 worldwide brands that are the “fittest” as far as putting purpose into action.

I was so excited to learn about this index, as I’ve been passionate about purpose in business for quite awhile. I consider this an official validation of why it’s so important to integrate purpose into everyday business – and why it’s key in better serving customers and the world at large.

A hot topic in executive boardrooms

RY digs into why purpose is gaining so much traction lately – and shares the driving forces behind why companies are putting this concept high on their list of important initiatives. The first catalyst, which is no surprise, is technological transformation. Other major forces include savvy consumers and the mainstreaming of sustainability.

Clearly, executives are taking the idea of purpose seriously. I particularly like how the report points out that, “Done well, purpose helps cut through a noisy landscape. Done brilliantly, it allows individuals to connect emotionally with an organization.”

What does purpose offer some of the largest enterprises in the world? According to RY, the benefits are greater opportunities, focus, direction, and performance – all with a social or human need at the heart. How does purpose integrate into daily business? For the best practitioners, it drives communications, informs decision-making, and engages stakeholders.

Practice makes perfect

The thing about purpose is that it must be put into practice – it’s a promise that must be lived up to, says RY. And only those that have accomplished this – those that are the fittest for delivering on their purpose – made it into the top 100 index.

Here’s a quick look at the criteria that RY used to determine which brands are successfully putting purpose into practice.

  1. Purpose and story. With true British humor, the RY report calls this criterion “All mouth and no trousers.” The average score for the top brands in this category was 64.3%.  Essentially, RY looked for how purpose showed up in a company’s overall philosophy. Does a company have a strong sense of social purpose? Does its purpose clearly address a social need? What promise does the company make to the world? Is the purpose stated clearly, with inspiration, and in a forward-thinking way?
  2. Communication. Labeled “Building a brand movement,” this part of the methodology explored whether or not companies are using purpose to engage and activate their audiences. The average score here was 60.5%. RY looked to see if companies created movement and momentum by inspiring others to get involved and play their part. Is purpose clearly embedded into key external communications channels? Is there a specific purpose-led campaign?
  3. Performance. With the philosophy of “Measurement is everything,” this criterion – which averaged 55.4% – looked at whether or not companies are letting purpose drive their performance. How deep does purpose run in a company? Is it just in communications, or is it reflected in the way a company organizes its business, sets goals and strategies, and monitors progress? Are there specific KPIs that are linked to purpose?
  4. Behavior. “Inspiring action” is the key for this one, and it drew an average score of 50.3%. Is purpose embedded into a company’s culture? Is there a shared understanding of why a company exists and how employees can contribute to that? Are the company’s leaders making statements that reference purpose? Are the employees doing purposeful work? Are there governance structures in place that link back to purpose?

The exciting news is that 36 companies around the globe are already considered “Super-Fit” when it comes to purpose, with another 28 falling into the category of “Heavyweights.” The remaining companies on this list are classified as “Middleweights” and “Lightweights.”

As the report says, the Super-Fit “get it.” They want to do more for people and society at large. And they are deliberately putting purpose into action. The Heavyweights are close behind. They have strong purpose-driven initiatives already in place.

Flexing some purpose muscle

I am proud to say that I work for a company that leads with purpose. SAP ranks number 22 on the list, and is considered to be Super-Fit. In fact, we are the highest-ranked technology company on the list and achieved “best in sector” for the Purpose and Story and Communication criteria in the technology sector.

I can personally attest that each criterion is important to us. Helping the world run better and improving people’s lives is our higher purpose; it’s why we do what we do. Check out our corporate purpose site and engagement around the United Nations Global Goals

In future blogs, I will take a closer look at what some of the most purposeful brands are doing right.  In the meantime, what are you and your company doing to foster a higher purpose? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

This story was originally published in Digitalist Magazine, in the Improving Lives section. See here.

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