For businesses, purpose is much more than having the highest moral ground – it’s a way of aligning actions for long-term success. Every business operates with some kind of purpose – even if that purpose is to solely drive profit.

Purpose, rather than a bragging right, or a check-yes-or-no concept, is a spectrum.

In my last column, I laid out different purpose types along that spectrum that leadership at any business might fall along: Profit Driver, Cause Marketer, Talent Advocate, Responsible Citizen. Those leaders that combine all these purpose types are ‘purpose champions’.

So how does a leader push themselves – and, by extension, their business – into this highest engagement with purpose? Let’s look now at some of the most common attributes of purpose champions, and how business leaders aiming to deepen their own organization’s use of purpose can take steps toward this aspiration.

Defer to purpose

True purpose champions deploy purpose as a guide for all decision-making across every area of the business. Purpose acts as the benchmark by which strategic decisions are made.

A purpose champion views purpose as a multidisciplinary framework for the business. Their purpose is the central organizing idea that drives everything they do to create value – from profits to campaigns, personnel, social and environmental impact, and beyond.

In a recent discussion with David Boynton, CEO of The Body Shop, Boynton spoke at length about the different roles that purpose plays in keeping his business in check. Purpose gives him a springboard for responding to any number of challenges, both financial and ethical, and offers a framework for correcting inevitable mistakes. Leaders, he said, would be wise to dig deeper into their organization and purpose, and to attend to it on a daily basis. “Raise the stakes when you come to work every day,” Boynton advised. “Keep testing yourself on purpose.”

Invest in purpose

We know, from data collected as part of my firm’s Annual CEO Purpose Report, that regardless of where they fall on the Purpose Spectrum, most CEOs (80% of the 700 we surveyed) believe that it’s essential for businesses to put more focus into long-term value creation.

We also know that only 5% of CEOs have led their business to actively make that shift, and that leaders with purpose and long-term valuation in mind are nearly 10% more successful when it comes to acquisitions and service growth than CEOs that lack purpose.

All this goes to show that integrating purpose is a challenging, but deeply rewarding investment. Purpose champions commit significant time, resources, and investment to ensure all business activities make positive contributions to their purpose, and as such, evidence of purpose can be seen in growth investments, business operations, culture, marketing, sustainability, and environmental impact.

Adapt with purpose

Businesses that can align around a purpose have a better understanding of what success looks like for themselves. And those that are committed to using purpose to guide their actions in the world are ultimately more effective, more successful, and more confident in the face of increasingly complex change.

Adaptability, of course, is more prescient now than it has ever been before, with many companies showing themselves to be purpose champions through their responses to the COVID-19 crisis.

Some, like Airbnb, through its “Online Experiences”, were able to flip this spring’s lock-down on its head to create relevant extensions of the business that are practical and purposeful given the market and public’s limitations. Others have used their organizational purpose to cater to the needs of customers or the public at large to provide something of value given the circumstances – think GoDaddy’s “Open We Stand” campaign for small businesses or Crocs’ “A Free Pair for Healthcare” program.

Some companies were just in the right place at the right time but their purpose helped them to prioritize actions in a way that would provide the most benefit to all their stakeholders – such as The Clorox Company and startup Swimply, which has been touted as the “Airbnb of swimming pools”.

Shift toward purpose

I’ve said before that profit drivers won’t – and shouldn’t aim to – become purpose champions overnight. But today’s boldest leaders are pushing toward positive change – data shows that more and more CEOs recognize the need to shift toward long-term value creation, and are increasingly dedicated to integrating purpose into their business strategy in some capacity. Not many leaders are purpose champions yet, but many are well on their way, and that’s purpose in itself.

There is no right or wrong position, but the more central purpose becomes as an organizing idea for the whole business, the more impact it has on decision-making, sustainable business practices, and long-term value creation.

Cover image source: visuals