Insight by Richard Thomson

In March 2021, the Content Marketing Association invited CEO of Kaptcha, Richard Thomson, to present a webinar to its members, called “Bringing Purpose to Life”. We wanted to examine the role of purpose in business today; and we were delighted to bring along three Kaptcha clients for their expert perspectives, too:

Alexandra Buxton, Culture and Talent Director at possibly London’s most famous food retailer, Fortnum and Mason
Minda Galvin, Group Head of Content and Creative for the financial services group, Provident Financial
Malaika Oyortey, Special Events Manager at the UK’s leading childrens’ charity, the NSPCC.

You can watch the webinar below, followed by the key lessons we learned.

1. Purpose is a concept whose time has come

A recent IBM report asked CEOs “how to thrive in a post-pandemic reality.” Top performing companies identified “a sense of purpose and mission” as a driver of success significantly more than underperformers.

As we find ourselves working for businesses which must navigate more uncertainty, and where many of us have been working remotely from our colleagues for a year or more, the idea of a principle which unites colleagues and customers is more attractive than ever.

Our webinar guests typically called purpose their “North Star”, for example here is Minda of Provident: “It’s become part and parcel of who we are. And our employer brand is built on it. It becomes a North Star.”

2. Purpose fulfils important roles in business

That North Star guides renewed effort. Our guests come from very different organisations, with different needs, but all saw value in deploying purpose. Alexandra (Fortnum’s) says, “It breeds tremendous pride in the business, delivers exponential effort, tremendous loyalty, and a sense of fun.” Employees are a deep well of latent talent, and with the guidance provide by a purpose, they will deliver far more for the business.

Malaika (NSPCC) saw purpose as crucial in aligning effort in a changing world: “Purpose frames all the work that we do. The last year has been a rollercoaster for lots of young people and it’s been even more important that we’ve been there for them. Purpose matters right now as the NSPCC is out there on the front lines with children 24/7, every day.”

Provident, meanwhile, is a large group of brands. Minda has put purpose to work to remind this complex organisation what values lie at its heart. “We were working rather as disparate entities”, she says. “Purpose helped us to get behind what people in the organisation love about it: trying to do the right thing. Purpose taps into the human need to be part of something bigger. And that moves the needle on the performance of the organization.”

3. Purpose is not just a tagline

You can find the Purpose Statements of most FTSE100 companies on their websites. But a purpose without substance is doomed to have little impact on the bottom line. Says Minda (Provident), “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s something that we’re still working on”. At Provident, purpose is enshrined in the behaviours expected at both leadership level and on the shop floor; and those behaviours are in turn measured in KPIs and appropriately rewarded so that purpose is reflected in the day-to-day activity of the business.

Similarly, Alexandra says that Fortnum & Mason prioritises purpose as part of the induction process for every new member of staff: “You have to feel the purpose from the job description to the interview to your first day”, she says. “We spend a lot of time giving proper depth and illustration to our purpose as part of our onboarding.”

4. Stories keep purpose alive

Launching a purpose programme is only half the battle. Keeping purpose alive in the increasing complexity of our busy work lives is more challenging. All our guests agreed that storytelling is key to keeping purpose fresh and relevant. Alexandra (Fortnum’s) again: “At its heart is phenomenal storytelling. Individual stories make purpose deeply authentic, accessible and shareable. Infectious stories create wonderful communications so that people at all levels can take on the purpose of the business and apply it.”

Malaika (NSPCC) agrees: “Storytelling is crucial. When we speak to our supporters, those stories make our purpose authentic. They allow us to inform, inspire and empower; whether that’s in a one-to-one meeting with managers or speaking to our committees and boards.”

“Stories give us the ability to make purpose part of the common parlance and language of our organization”, says Provident’s Minda. “People get the link between purpose and the work that they’re trying to do.”

Stories are also the fuel for authenticity. They prevent purpose from becoming empty sloganeering. Alexandra says, “The key watchout is that purpose must not become a sort of word-Bingo, just a banner. There’s something important in keeping it honest and true. So when you consider what materials you create, you must do it with discretion, otherwise it just becomes white noise.”

5. And get everyone involved

It should be no surprise that, if purpose is the North Star of a business and its activities, everyone has a role to play.

Our contributors all agreed that leaders in an organisation must become role models for the purpose they wish to embed. They must lead by example, evidencing purpose in their behaviours and the decisions that they make. Says Alexandra, “Purpose is rooted in leadership behaviours. That’s about having a proper conversation with leadership and helping them understand how they need to support the purpose and the decision making; and align those to behaviours as well.”

Line managers, meanwhile, are a source of stories and expertise through their respective professional lenses. They are the expression of purpose in different functions and skills across the business. Marketing, purchasing, HR and all the other functions in an organisation regularly meet, and it becomes their duty to share stories and best practice for the benefit of the wider business.

But purpose really takes hold on the shop floor. Says Minda (Provident), “Get people involved as early as possible. Because that allows your team to own purpose and be part of it. If it’s cooked up in a room by a small number of very important people, then you’ve got a lot of work to do to get employees to embrace it. You need to be able to have a two-way conversation up and down the organization. Purpose shouldn’t be lofty – it should be something that everybody can connect with.”

“I’d like to thank the CMA, our audience, and most of all, our webinar guests for giving up their time and giving us so much insight. All three have used purpose in their organisations in exceptional ways. As we emerge from the pandemic, I am convinced that purpose is not just valuable, but one of the most powerful tools in the modern CEO’s armoury.”

If we can help you explore your purpose, please do get in touch.

Richard Thomson

Richard is CEO of Kaptcha. He cut his teeth at the BBC, where he directed some of their biggest and most engaging shows including Top Gear, Crimewatch and Holiday. Bringing these skills to the corporate world, he then launched the multi award-winning HSBC TV. Today he harnesses the power of film to tell the engaging stories behind the brands, creating real change in the way audiences – internal and external - feel and think.

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