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There are three Ps, three Cs and an ESG in Purpose

5 May 2021
Read: 4 min

But this shift has been coming for decades.

It’s already been three years since Larry Fink wrote "A sense of purpose" and an amazing 12 years since Simon Sinek first published “Start with Why”.

OK then Simon, I will.

If we all accept the importance of Purpose – to customers, employees, and shareholders; to business success; and to sleeping well at night - why are so many organisations still struggling to articulate, then live theirs?

Well, because it’s hard. Partly because we’ve smothered it in jargon.

Your purpose is your Why. Your North Star. It is your Guiding Light and your Governing Principle. It is distinct from your mission, different from your vision and definitely not a narrative. It is authentic and true although aspirational, of course. And it aligns what is required to create a profitable, successful organisation, with the needs of the world. Oh, and it’s sort of the same, but not quite the same, as your ESG strategy / framework / programme / proposition.

Ohhhhhhh. That’s clear then.

But, as my Granny would have said, if something is worth having…

Ask LEGO, who exist “To inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”.

Yes. They. Do.

They always have. It’s simple and it’s undeniable. Their product is the epitome of their Purpose, so why they’re here and what they do are completely matched. And that translates to massive success. LEGO has been consistently named in Forbes top 10 most powerful brands in the world for years.

However, while they make a great product (although as a mother of three LEGO-loving boys, PLEASE can someone make stepping bare foot on a LEGO brick hurt less? *), let’s be honest. There are far cheaper ‘knock offs’, widely available, that aren’t bad quality. Nevertheless, the LEGO brand preference (nay, obsession), prevails. Simon says, why?

Purpose. Everyone who buys LEGO, and everyone who works at LEGO, understands – and believes in the LEGO difference. In LEGO we trust.

Because LEGO LIVES its Purpose. Their culture is founded on the values of creativity, imagination, fun, learning, quality and care. Sounds brilliant, right? No wonder their employees are inspired to come up with great new ideas and deliver them with perfection. No wonder LEGO never gets boring (I can build a mean velociraptor cage, by the way). The whole operations of the company have been designed to ensure quality, and timely delivery of high-quality product and service, so they can deliver on their Purpose.

It’s the definition of walking the walk.
And it makes for a very successful, and profitable business.

And that last point is important because some struggle to accept that Profit belongs in the same room as Purpose. But it does. As the World Economic Forum pointed out last year, organisations making profit by SOLVING problems is how positive change happens. It’s when they profit from CAUSING problems that we have an issue.

There is nothing wrong with Profit. It can be an enabler of positive action and change. And it goes to the heart of Purpose.

LEGO definitely makes a profit. What matters is HOW they do it.

Which brings us, full circle, to ESG.

If your Purpose is WHY you exist, being purposeful comes down to your HOW. And that, for me, is ESG.

ESG dictates… How you behave. How you make decisions. How you prioritise. How you impact the world through behaviours and actions that benefit the Environment and Society, while ensuring an organisation is well Governed. Ooh, there are the three Ps again (Planet, People, Profit).

Turns out Simon Sinek was right.

WHY, HOW, WHAT are all critical parts of creating an authentic, sustainable, and impactful brand. But, while it’s important to spend proper time on the WHY – and of course, you need to make sure WHAT you do delivers on the promise – HOW is the secret sauce that turns Purpose from pretty words on a wall, to a blueprint for positive action.

The world is sold on the need for Purpose.

The challenge for organisations now is HOW to bridge the “purpose gap” (McKinsey). HOW to get from the words to the deeds. From the aspiration to the reality. From the vision to the experience.

LEGO have it nailed. Yes, I’m a fan. Although, luckily for me, I’m rather proud of where I work too.

One of the most satisfying things I get to do professionally, is collaborating with organisations to define their Purpose and then, make it real – for their Colleagues, Customers, and their Communities (both large and small). Ooh, look… three Cs!

So, there we have it. Purpose is WHY. But critically, it is also HOW.
It is synonymous with ESG (“the three Ps”) and, done well, it will measurably benefit your three Cs.

* For other parents out there, I can not recommend highly enough a “play and go toy storage bag” (other brands are available). It’ll change your life…

Note from the author (July 2021): I wrote this article in early May to explore the role of corporate purpose using a couple of well-known examples which, at the time, brought the narrative to life well. As I cover in the article though, Purpose only has meaning if what is said is matched by action. So, in light of reports about BrewDog that were published after this article was written, I have now edited the post as I firmly believe in the principles within it and wish to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding.
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