Joanna M Sullivan

Pitch perfect purpose. A New “Business as Usual” is on the horizon.

Change. For the better. It’s what people want and they’ve realised that NGOs can’t do it alone.


From the meeting rooms of Davos to the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, it seems as though every CEO is talking “purpose”. A growing number of CEOs appear ready to shift gear to a higher level, to create new socially minded, environmentally conscious and globally good companies that put “societal purpose” at their heart.


Does that mean better business for Europe?

Yet the European Commission has not put sustainability at the heart of its growth strategy. Does the Commission plan to help, or hinder, the corporate drive to ‘societal purpose’? “No time for business as usual” was their New Year message. A closer look reveals the Commission seeks to “make a positive difference for Europeans in 2016”, create a “New Boost for Jobs, Growth and Investment”, “A Deeper and Fairer Internal Market”, “A Reasonable and Balanced Free Trade Agreement with the US” and much more, all in 2016.

But is this clear, does it sound genuine, and will it help spark any connection between business and NGOs? Will it help connect citizens and EU Institutions?

From the conference platforms of Brussels to the social media platforms of the Twittersphere, conversations about a better Europe have always been about better business. Better business engages with the issues of the day, like climate change, entrepreneurship, education and inequality. Better business is ethical, transparent and works in partnership with government and the not-for-profit sector. Better business looks to the future, listens to employees and leans in to the challenges.


Connected leadership, connected people.

A new book co-written by McKinsey partner Robin Nuttall proposes a “new way forward” of “connected leadership” arguing that “30% of corporate earnings are at stake from effective connection with external stakeholders”. Connect challenges CEOs to ask themselves “what societal value am I creating?”. Perhaps it’s time for President Juncker to ask himself that same question.

Tax specialists PwC have said that organisations with purpose and values at their heart will “inspire people, accelerate growth, drive profitability, strengthen resiliency, deepen stakeholder relationships and ultimately become more successful and sustainable with greater impact on society”.

Is this a sign that the big management consultancies are shaping up to shape better business? Most likely they’ll help organisations spend money on stripping, structures and systems, driving a new wave of disruption for management and employees. What they might overlook is that purpose can only be embedded by human connection. A new approach, a soft engagement, is needed to reach employees. The hard skills of the traditional consultants simply won’t cut the mustard.

For the next generation of Instagrammers, authentic consultants and high-minded employees, the “feeling” is everything. The new global ad campaign by Coca Cola with the tagline “Taste the Feeling,” goes one step beyond “Open Happiness”. Ever hungry to hook youth, the “feeling” is about “authenticity, unscripted moments of life” which provide connection and purpose.

Just like the beautiful people in the ads, successful organisations need to be connected to “exist”. Successful organisations have to be seen as having social kudos.


Defining purpose, driving values.

In the transparency driven, slow-growth world of 2016, companies and institutions must be clear as to purpose, values and commitments. A migration-high, carbon-low, speeded-up society means organisations must reach out to ‘others’ to help them to think ‘differently’, risk ‘disruption’ and dig deeper into their ‘values set’. Purpose will facilitate culture change in the way organisations operate, the way they connect with their people and the way they engage externally.


3 effective strategies to drive purpose deep inside organisations.


Strategy 1. Drive integration of sustainability into business models.

If leaders of companies get their sustainability engagement right at all levels, they can reduce silos and hierarchies to change corporate culture and more effectively partner with NGOs. They will achieve a culture that walks the sustainability talk. Employees will start to talk with authenticity, to articulate and amplify stories that talk of progress against purpose.


Strategy 2. Engage employees behind the company sustainability mission.

Purpose has to be a central part of organisational culture, something people feel in their work every day and customers feel when they buy into the company promise. Aligning personal values with employer values – sustainability engagement – will help companies attract and retain the values driven Millennial generation.


Strategy 3. Connect with NGOs and critical friends.

Building partnerships outside the business sector underpins any genuine commitment to transformative sustainability policy. Connecting with others means seeking dialogue with detractors, listening to the voices of disruptors and creating opportunities to think “differently” about the big issues. Getting all sides around the table matters now more than ever. Resources are being depleted at an alarming rate. There’s no time to waste.


Change. For the better. It’s what people want.


It’s time for institutions and businesses in Europe to review and define their societal purpose to stand a chance of effective engagement and sustainable success.


What value is your organisation creating for society? And what about other organisations? Do they have their purpose pitch perfect?



About the author

Joanna M Sullivan is author of the book Creating Employee Champions: How to drive business success through sustainability engagement. Joanna is founder and owner of Conscience Consulting a boutique consultancy that provides strategic communications advice, writing, facilitation and training services to organisations committed to a better future.




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