Aligning on Purpose

Align all people and processes in the organisation to manifest and realise the company's Purpose

The Breathe Approach for companies is designed to maximise their ability to successfully fulfil their Purpose in the most efficient and effective manner whilst serving the needs of all stakeholders, including the people within the organisation

We believe that businesses have an amazing opportunity as well as a sobering responsibility to create a prosperous future for the whole of society. We agree with Oxford University’s Colin Mayer in stating that the purpose of business is “to produce profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet, and not to profit from producing problems for people or planet”.

The tides are shifting for businesses around the globe. With the rising awareness of consumers and legislators alike, the times of gross unpriced "externalities“ are coming to an end. If a business is to future-proof itself and thrive in the long run, it must become a net positive contributor to people and planet. We believe the most effective way to do that is for companies to thoroughly cement themselves in a purpose-driven business paradigm.

Purpose defines a company’s reason for being and emphasizes the difference it is trying to make in the world. It then serves as a ‘north star’, shaping a company’s vision, strategy, inspiring its people, engaging both customers and community, steering choices at critical moments, and being fully embedded in a company’s culture. In addition, a credible, inspiring, and authentic Purpose can help a company identify new markets, attract talent, decrease risk and attract investors, all while generating long-term value and shareholder returns. In short, Purpose can be seen as the fundament upon which the rest of a business can be built, that continuously guides and motivates the whole organization.

However, becoming purpose-driven must not be seen as a quick fix. It is hard to deliver and requires a rigorous approach of trade-offs, consistency, and focused execution. A Purpose should inspire and steer decision-making at all levels of an organisation. It cannot be seen as a rebranding of CSR or of philanthropy efforts to compensate for a focus on shareholder value. It must also balance an internal focus with an external focus, where it inspires people within the company on the one hand and builds and engages a customer community on the other hand. Finally, it must match the company's core business and be translatable into operational decisions that are implemented consistently towards all stakeholders.

It may seem challenging to check all these boxes, but there are many frameworks to help guide an organisation towards becoming purpose-driven. On a high level, the process is built up of three parts. It starts with the discovery phase, where the organisation explores the potential value of embedding Purpose and which strengths and vulnerabilities the company has towards its stakeholders. We then transition into the design phase, where possibilities are evaluated and tough business and functional trade-offs are made. Finally, we reach the Purpose delivery phase. In this phase, ownership and commitments are integrated into the organisation, and a concrete plan of action is finalised.

An essential part of becoming purpose-driven is embedding Purpose fully into a company's culture. There is no business transformation without human transformation. Companies must be honest about their impact, both positive and negative, on society and planet. By embedding Purpose into their culture, companies' actions become authentic externally. The first step towards doing this is by recognising what a company's values are. It is then important to constantly review the impact made by using clear metrics in both operations and the organisation as a whole. Purpose itself is ever-changing, evolving as the needs of a business's context change. Measuring the impact and collecting feedback is an important method of making sure the defined purpose is still relevant. This combines the data-driven and the human-driven approach. Working through the above steps will then translate to a vibrant, aligned, and creative culture in a company that efficiently and dynamically pursues its purpose.

Becoming purpose-driven does not only make sense from a societal/environmental perspective but also from a business perspective. Business and stakeholder expectations are creating a necessity for a focus on contribution to planet and society. Customer needs are shifting, where customers are developing a preference for brands with a clear contribution to society. When people feel unfulfilled in an organisation, it will be either expensive or impossible to retain them. Also, they become less productive. A well-defined Purpose motivates employees throughout all levels of an organisation. Purpose centres a company's priorities around its people, the planet, and society, by leveraging its strengths and working through its weaknesses. This will provide long-term shareholder (and stakeholder) value.

The Purpose we take a stand for as Breathe is to build inspired companies. By implementing this different approach to business, we work to inspire a company’s people and community, as well as inspire other companies to recognize their contribution to the world. To read more about how we put purpose into practice, have a look at our case study on Home.Earth. By building and growing a handful of Purpose-driven companies with an evergreen horizon at scale, we intend to contribute to change at a system level. Read more about the Breathe Purpose here.

Where Purpose is the starting point, it remains crucial that it is embedded in all areas of business. Therefore, our approach covers four other parts of the business: Governance, Structure, Capital and Culture. Aligning all five of these components will allow the full potential of your organisation to be utilised.

To read more about the other four components of the Breathe Approach – Governance, Structure, Capital and Culture – have a look over here.