Purpose is the raison d’être of a company, the permanent basis of its strategy. Every company has a purpose, explicit or not; however, few – although this is changing – have a conscience. To be clear, the Mafia has a purpose, but consciousness is just another story.
Let’s start with this Litmus test: “Who said this statement?”
To start off relaxed, I’d like to invite you to play and take part in this riddle with three possible answers, although only one of them is the right one.
The question is: Who has explicitly told this institutional purpose?
The purpose under scrutiny is:
“Caring for those around us, always ensuring their well-being and that of their families, for a lifetime.
Protecting our environment, taking care of raw materials, giving security to producers, recycling our waste.”
The potential answers are:
- Paulus “Paul” Gerardus Josephus Maria Polman, Former CEO of Unilever;
- Pope Francis, 266th Pope of the Catholic Church;
- Anthony “Tony” John Soprano Sr., Capo di tutti Capi – From The Sopranos crime drama TV series.
Before giving the right answer, we must admit that all three could have said that quote, one talking about the Unilever raison d’être, Pope Francis in his second encyclical, Laudato si’, and we are left with Tony Soprano whom you probably know, I guess.
And the correct choice is the number “3”. Words more or words least, this was the way Tony Soprano described to his psychologist the business he was in and leading.
By this, what I mean is that everyone has a purpose, even the Mafia, yet few have a conscience and even fewer are specific in the way they define it.
Consciousness needs sincerity rather than authenticity
For a company, being true to itself means being concerned, admitting vulnerability, and making bold choices. For example, stopping collaborating with other firms that do not meet a company’s standards of conduct; assuming responsibility for mistakes that affect society; abandoning businesses that are no longer legitimate. In other words, being consistent between what the company thinks, does, and says.
Behaving truthfully and being unapologetically driven by values are two of the essential characteristics that today’s society is demanding from each institution.
The key difference between being authentic and sincere is that a business can be authentic and behave without a sense of morality or ethics, while it is impossible to think of a sincere company behaving in that way.
On the one hand, we all have examples of rude, unresponsive, and abusive companies that are authentic but are seldom true to themselves and conscious of others. On the other hand, sincerity is about recognizing that the company lives in a world that goes beyond its own borders. It is about deeply considering its impact on the planet, being self-conscious, purposeful, and going beyond the numbers to confirm and express its true nature. Being sincere means knowing that there is a pathway to live and work by its values, down to every detail. In this way, a company can become a genuine and inspiring brand.
Another important issue to consider is that authenticity is an innate behavior and sincerity is an acquired one.
Babies are authentic, kids learn to behave sincerely. The same can happen with companies.
Business authenticity is a broader definition that considers the entire spectrum of being true to itself, while sincerity is more focused, brings wisdom, care, and a greater perspective than its own.
People believe in honest brands
It is good business to be true to what the company is, allowing the public to recognize how it behaves with a conscience. Although, in addition, society demands a positive social and environmental impact from the company, this does not mean that profit motives (which are necessary) are hidden as a falsely sincere attitude.
It is valid to recognize the need to “make money” whilst being sympathetic to the audience in the way a company communicates. That’s sincerity!
Brands trying to navigate this new world of conscience and sincerity should act differently, deeply believing in the way they think, in the values they defend, doing the right thing, and being honest about their motivations.
“Behaving truthfully and being unapologetically driven by values are two of the essential characteristics that today’s society is demanding from each institution.”
If being honest and conscious brings on a deeper layer of seriousness and respect, being conscious of others helps take it to the next level, one that is increasingly demanded by all stakeholders including citizens.
“Is your company radically honest? ” I asked him.
“Of course, it is! We’ve always been honest,” he lied to me.
Conscientious purpose is an inherent part of business
From the beginning of time, purpose is born with any enterprise expressing its raison d’être – even Adam, Eve, Lilith, and the apple.
Thus, the purpose must be company-connected, and its fit is achieved because the strategic aims are born from and aligned with such business.
The challenge for the leadership team is to first understand the real and deepest meaning of purpose, translating it into an actionable mission and vision. It is a matter of alignment, coherence, and consistency.
These are the basis of a company’s better performance, not only in terms of achieving better economic and financial results but also in generating a positive impact.
A conscientious purpose must be integrated into all aspects of how companies do business.
As life, purpose is understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. This means that, if purpose changes, the company must change – essentially, because it must be reimagined, redesigned, and restarted to live a new aspirational future. This is a key point that is often misunderstood.
Making a conscientious purpose explicit is a good first step
To be practical, a good first step is to make the purpose explicit and, if it is already there, to ensure that it really is the reason for the company’s existence and not a good narrative invented by the marketing or communication areas.
“Holy Graf Zeppelin, Batman!” Unfortunately, we tend to produce such conceptual monstrosities far too often. Deal with it! If the purpose of the business is only to make money, that’s what it is! As mentioned before, it can change but it will imply that a new business was born.
To reinforce, deepen, and, above all, be driven by a purpose, in addition to making it explicit, companies must continuously translate it into precise business objectives associated with it and, in turn, the latter must be translated into visible actions and behaviors. This ensures executive responsiveness to the company’s key audiences and becomes the trigger for exceptional transformation and growth.
The obvious steps (sorry, but I must insist on this) to make purpose a meaningful day-to-day experience are:
- Think, act, and say – in that order;
- Measure the impact of how the company acts on purpose;
- Make the leadership team accountable;
- Ensure that all stakeholders understand and share that company’s reason for existence;
- Build the company’s symbols, rituals, and stories around it.
Brand and purpose, brands with a conscience
Branding aims at building a realistic meaning of the company in its interaction with people, independently but including the role they play as citizens.
In addition, when the purpose includes the impact on society and the environment, the brand as a business platform helps prove the consciousness of the company, not to mention internal issues of governance and responsible investments.
When stakeholders understand, live, and share what the company stands for and why that matters, the results come on their own, without out of the ordinary efforts. That’s why I said, at the very beginning of this article, that companies that act in line with their purpose create value, generate superior results, and could even have a positive impact.
If the company can’t deliver on purpose, its brand promise is basically empty nonsense.
Three questions arise:
- Where are your company and your brand on this journey towards brands with a conscience?
- Is the company’s purpose explicit and does it need to be transformed?
- Is the company ready for a transformation that will lead to growth into both results and impact?
Cover image source: cottonbro